It makes me sad that there is the need for a day to encourage people to talk about mental health. To offer support and conversation to those in need of a friendly ear. For there to be less discrimination. In my ideal world no one would bat an eyelid if I openly talked about my depression and anxiety, no one would feel uncomfortable reaching out to someone they know is struggling, no one would feel alone and unable to ask for help.
But this isn’t my ideal world. It is a world where mental health is still pushed away into the corner, the elephant in the room too many people don’t want to even acknowledge let alone talk about.
This needs to stop. Talking matters.
It is important for us with mental health issues. And it is important for those without. If we don’t talk, we don’t understand. If we don’t talk, we leave people feeling ashamed and unsupported. We let people feel forgotten and abandoned.
I get that sometimes it is hard to talk to someone about their mental health issues. That it can feel awkward. That you might worry about what to say or how to say it. So you say nothing. Honestly I get it. But I also know how isolating it feels when no one asks how you are, how alone you can feel when it seems like no one is there to listen and understand. Believe me saying nothing is worse than saying the ‘wrong’ thing.
Not that there is a wrong thing to say. Or necessarily a right thing to say or time to say it. What there is, is a serious need to talk. About mental health. To those with mental health issues. About our own mental health.
Here’s a few little tips and ideas to help you start that conversation…
Don’t make a big deal out of it….
It doesn’t have to be a ‘big’ conversation. Open with the small stuff. A simple ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ or ‘just checking in on you’ – that’s all you need to do. To let someone know that you are thinking of them, that you care, that you are willing to talk. No pressure on you or them. So send that message or offer that coffee.
Talk. And Listen…
A conversation is not just about the words coming out of your mouth. Those coming in your ears are just as important. Listen to what is being said to you, hear what that person is actually telling you not what you think they are. Ask questions, don’t assume. Offer your thoughts, don’t tell them what to do. You are not expected to solve things.
Take the pressure off…
Talking about mental health can be very difficult. So if you can, choose somewhere less confrontational to avoid that deer-caught-in-the-headlights feeling. A time and place that feels comfortable. Situations where you are side by side often work well as they are less intense and focused than those where you are face to face.
Of course even if the time and place is not ‘good’ and someone wants to talk about their mental health, just talk. For them it is obviously the right time to talk.
If someone says that they are not ready to talk, don’t push it. Insisting will not help, it may do the opposite causing them to shut down or push away. Just let them know that you are there to talk to when they are ready. And be there. Reaching out to someone who has offered you help and then doesn’t give it…well it hurts. And it damages.
You may not like or understand what is said to you. And that is fine. But this is how that person is feeling, what their illness is telling them. Your approval is not needed. Your time and support is.
You may feel like you don’t know that person anymore. Really though nothing has changed. They are still the same person, there are simply more layers to them than you maybe realised. What is important is that you don’t treat them differently or start walking on eggshells around them. Yes maybe they need more support and understanding from you but they also want to feel normal. They want to feel loved and understood, just like everyone else.
At the end of the day what you say or how you say it is not the most important thing when it comes to talking about mental health. There is no right thing to say, no right place or time to say it. What matters is the talking.
Have that conversation, you could literally save someone’s life.