Talking about mental health can be a sensitive topic, especially if you’re worried about someone you care about.
But while it can feel like a minefield, now more than ever, we could do with checking in with those we love and offering support in their times of need.
As a culture, we’re inherently awkward when it comes to discussing things that aren’t considered ‘our business’. Often, many of us will wait for someone to approach us with their problems, rather than pushing into their space and persuading them to open up.
Much of this comes from the idea that we’re being intrusive or believe people simply need space to sort themselves out… but that’s exactly where the problem starts.
Sometimes, people are sending out a cry for help and they’re not being heard, or they’re too scared to ask for it in the first place. So, how can you make sure that you’re there for your friends and family when they need you most?
Below, I’ve highlighted how to start a conversation around mental health and what to do once you’re started.
Ask them if they’re okay
Starting the conversation can really be as simple as asking someone if they’re okay. It could be just the question they needed to be asked that day (but be wary about distinguishing it from everyday chit-chat).
For example, if you think that they’re giving you a generic comment in return, try tackling the question another way and make your concern known. You could ask:
- Are you okay? You haven’t seemed yourself lately.
- I’ve noticed you’re not going out as much as the moment. Is everything okay?
- You’ve seemed quiet recently. Is there anything you would like to talk about?
Making your concern clear should open a gateway to a bigger conversation, beyond a general mood check-in. If they’re confused about why you’re asking these questions, be genuine. Tell them you’re worried about them and you’d like to talk.
Explain why you’re concerned and, even if they don’t want to talk about it yet, make it known that you are there when they’re ready.
To make sure they’ve got free time to talk, suggest catching up over a cup of tea or going out for a walk, so they know it’s not just a 10-minute catch-up.
Listen to what they have to say
So, you’ve asked the big question and got the ball rolling. Don’t clock out once they’ve started confiding in you about their mental health.
Make sure your diary is clear so you’re not looking at the clock every five minutes and encourage them to talk. Ask them about what’s going on, how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and what they’ve been doing differently.
Then, take the time to understand what they’re going through. Everyone’s experience is unique, and you need to validate how they’re feeling.
At this point, you’ll probably want to offer advice and solutions – but now is not the time. The best thing you can do is listen and be non-judgemental. Let them take the lead and, if you’re faced with silence, give them time to gather their thoughts.