5 Tips for Starting The Conversation about Mental Health

So it’s #TimeToTalkDay and we’re kicking things off today with this post, followed by a special edition of Mental Monday on Twitter and YouTube at 7PM UTC also.

But first, did you notice what I did in the title?

I said ‘the conversation’.

This makes it sound like a big thing. It is, but it shouldn’t be. Talking about our mental health is something we should do naturally. We should feel able to talk about it whenever we need to. We shouldn’t have to sit down and talk formally across a table about it. We should discuss it openly with our friends, family, peers and coworkers.

The first conversation with someone is always the hardest. Having to stand there and say “I have a mental health problem” to someone who would have otherwise believed you were absolutely fine is so, so hard. No one wants to say they have a problem, mental or physical. Everyone just wants to be okay.

You may be worried what people will think, whether they will tell others, treat you different, run away or wrap you in cotton wool.

It’s okay to be anxious about this. If you haven’t told someone before you don’t know how they’ll react. New things are always scary. Especially when they’re as personal as this.

But there are ways you can make it easier.

1. Create the space to talk

Especially for the first time, this is important. It’s not about sitting down around a table, notebooks out and pens poised. Although you’re talking about a serious thing, try to come away from a formal conversation. Just be relaxed and talk normally about it.

The more you relax and talk normally for mental health, the better you’ll be able to talk about it and allow it to be part of you, rather than making it formal. If you do that, you’re internalising it into a big thing, which is going to make conversations harder.

2. Talk about the important issues

Sometimes when we have our first conversation about mental health, even saying “I have a mental health problem” is too much. And it’s okay to hold details back, you’re not going to want to say everything on the first conversation. That’s understandable. But the more details you give, the more will be in the open and the more stuff you can get off your chest.

Talk about the main important issues that are going on. Say what’s affecting you, what you’re finding hard, and if you’d like the person to do anything differently to help you with what you’re going through.

3. Don’t rust through it

This doesn’t have to be your only conversation about mental health. These should be ongoing conversations that we drift in and out of as and when we need to talk about our mental health

So take your time. You don’t have to get through everything in this conversation. If you’re finding it too much to talk, then take some time and try again when you’re feeling better,

4. It’s okay just to hug

In our low moments sometimes we don’t feel like talking. Not every conversation has to be a long chat – you’ll talk more some days than others. Sometimes, all we need is a hug. Although it’s called ‘Time to Talk Day’ a hug is just as powerful in showing that you’re that for someone, that you care about them.

5. Your first words

So now you’ve had some general tips, you may still be asking “what do I say?” Everyone’s mental health is different, everyone’s going to have a different conversation. Say what you feel, what do you really need to tell someone? Say what you want to get off your chest.

Finding a time when you’re not busy is best. When you don’t have any plans to do anything, a calm setting can help you relax, feel comfortable, and be less distracting. This may sound contradictory to the ‘no poised pens’ rule, but if there are no distractions, and you do have a calm setting, you’re going to get a lot more out of the conversation.

Start by saying what you want to talk about your mental health. This sets the topic straight away and prepares you for the conversation ahead. Say what’s happening now, focus on how you feel, and how it affects you rather than just naming conditions such as ‘Depression’.

And you’re in! Talk about however much you want to talk about, for as long as you like. You don’t have to give a monologue, say your struggling and you need help is enough. Some thing’s you’ll naturally want to keep to yourself. That’s okay. Other thing’s you’ll need to get off your chest. That’s okay too.

And remember, you’re doing the right thing. We need to talk about mental health more. We should discuss it in homes, schools and in the workplace. Mental health is with us all the time. The conversation should be also.

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