Today I wanted to share my ten best tips for talking about mental health.
The first five will be for you to help you navigate through a mental health conversation. The rest will be to help you become a better listener.
The first conversation will always be hard. Starting to talk about mental health with someone who would have believed you were otherwise fine is going to be hard.
You may find it scary to start with, and I’d always start with talking to people you trust, such as family or close friends, or even a doctor. You don’t have to be open with everyone straight away, and what you tell is always up to you.
When I start conversations about mental health I still get anxiety. Even though I’m very open about it, and they probably know anyway, actually getting into that first conversation about mental health is a little daunting.
Now let’s get into my tips on how to make this a bit easier.
1. Create the space to talk
For the first conversation, this one’s important. Pick a setting that you feel comfortable with, a rowdy pub with your mates might not be the best place. Have somewhere you feel relaxed and able to talk.
This isn’t going so far to sit around a table, notebooks out and pens poised. While mental health is serious, coming away from the formality of the conversation makes it easier for me to talk.
Talking about it in a chilled way shows me that it’s something I can talk about and make sit a lot easier to talk rather than it becomes “the conversation” – something that’s dreaded.
2. Don’t rush through it
This doesn’t have to be your only conversation about mental health. It doesn’t have to be a one-off conversation, never to be seen again.
Don’t worry about getting this conversation over and done with. Don’t worry about forgetting important details or not able to talk about everything.
You can go through this at your own pace. You don’t have to say everything straight away. Talk about what you’re comfortable with. You may not want to go into details with everything straight away.
3. Talk about what you’re struggling with now
I find it helpful when having mental health conversations to talk about what the person I’m talking to can expect. I say things like “I might go quiet sometimes, I’m ok, just having a moment.”
During the conversation talking about how things are affecting you now can make it easier to go through these low moments as you’ve been open about it, and hopefully, your friend is now expecting and accepting of it.
4. It’s okay if it’s difficult
Talking about mental health is going to be challenging. You may not be able to find the right words straight away, and you may not be able to open up at first.
And all of that is okay.
Talking about mental health is personal. Make sure you’re comfortable with the conversation. Don’t feel (or be) forced to say anything you don’t want to. This is your conversation, your feelings that you’re talking about.
5. Expect Questions
One of the most common reactions when talking about mental health with people is their questions. And lots of them.
Questions about what things mean, how they affect me. What I feel, how I feel it. Etc, etc.
These can be difficult and may feel overwhelming but I try and think of them as a good thing. It shows the other person is genuinely taking an interest thinking about what I’m going through, and asking to understand more.
For me, I’m used to talking about mental health so the questions don’t really bother me. But they can be tough if you don’t even know the answers yourself (e.g. all those why though’s).
There’s no “right” way you’re going to have this conversation. It’s going to be difficult. It’s going to be challenging.
But overcoming that first awkward conversation has meant that I’m able to be more open about mental health and make it part of the conversations I have.
When someone opens up about their mental health it can come as a shock. You may not know what to say in reply, how to react and worry about getting it wrong.
In this second half, I’m going to share some tips from experiencing others’ reactions when I talk about mental health with them.
1. It’s okay not to know all of the answers
There is no “right” way of having this conversation. Talking about mental health is personal and challenging. Chances are both of you will find this conversation uncomfortable.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to know what to say. Mental health doesn’t have a simple answer. You’re not going to know exactly how to respond.
And that’s okay. Be honest and say that you’re not sure how to respond. Sometimes the only thing you’ll be able to do is listen.
2. You’re not going to fix them
Similar to the first one you’re not going to be able to solve all the issues that are going on. You’re not trained, your not a professional. You’re just a friend.
And that’s still an important role.
You can still be there to listen. Be understanding when there’s not much conversation between you or even anger. Mental health is difficult; we know there’s no magic wand. But you can be kind, understanding and patient and friends like this are so, so valuable.
3. Remember your mental health too
Mental health advocates like me often have lots of conversation with people reaching out to talk about their mental health.
And if your own mental health isn’t in a great place this can build up all too quickly. Sometimes you have to take a step back.
And that’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s okay to prioritise your own mental health and have some self-care time if you need it.
4. Let them go at their own pace
When I talk to someone about my mental health I don’t usually say everything in the first conversation. As our friendship develops I may share more details here and their.
Don’t try and pry the information out. It’s okay to ask questions and want to know more. But asking for information, especially if it’s about sensitive topics such as abuse, it can add to the pressure.
Be patient here, accept the level of detail you’re getting and know that more will reveal if they choose to share that with you.
5. Be Normal
I’d much rather my friends continue as we normally do after they find out about my mental health. With how public mine is, it’s not really “news” to them but you may only be finding out for the first time.
Try and keep a space open to still chat over a game of Fortnite. Having that normality with my friends is so important and creates space away from my mental health.
Don’t act like the person has changed because of their mental health reveal to you. It’s a big thing but you can still keep that day to day life, still have a laugh and still be yourself.
You’re not going to get this right. And that’s okay. You can give it your best, and go by how they respond. That’s good enough.
Above were my five best tips for having a conversation about mental health and 5 for listening to one. It can be difficult at first, especially during that first conversation. But mental health will be one of those things that come up in conversation and being able to do so in a way you both feel comfortable can make you part of a good support network.
I hope you found that helpful. If you have any specific questions or your own tips you’d like to share then let me know in the comments.5.