Initiating a conversation with someone you think may be struggling with their mental health can be tricky, but it can be life-saving. This article outlines 5 easy steps to help you navigate that discussion to help your loved ones.
What is a mental health conversation?
Quite simply, a mental health conversation is a formal or informal chat trying to understand how somebody is feeling. What we are trying to understand is the state of somebody’s mental health, which goes beyond the standard ‘how are you?’ that we often ask daily!
You don’t need to be a professional to ask how someone is doing. Simply being there to listen and letting them know you care can be powerful enough!
Why start a chat about mental health?
There are many reasons why you may want to initiate a mental health conversation. You may be feeling worried about a friend or loved one, or have seen recent changes in their behaviour that are causing you concern.
Opening up about your mental health can also be a daunting prospect for somebody that is struggling. Checking in frequently not only reduces any pressure for the person in need of support but also provides you with a more up-to-date account of what is going on. It can also be an outlet for you to share what you are going through too.
Ok, so what are your 5 steps to starting a mental health conversation?
Step 1: Find a relaxed environment
Like any other conversation, being in a relaxed environment removes the formality from a situation – especially one where the conversation may be difficult!
Try and find a location that feels typical for you both like grabbing a drink in a café or pub, playing sports or driving in the car. Talking during an activity can also reduce any pressure to fill silences or maintain eye contact which some people might find too intense.
Step 2: Don’t be afraid to address the situation head on
Starting a mental health conversation can be tricky and there is no one correct way to go about it. If you aren’t sure how somebody may be or you think a softer approach may be better, try asking things like:
- “How are you? How are you really?”
- “Is there anything on your mind?”
- “How are your stress levels right now?”
Asking things twice shows that you are really interested in them rather than just being polite!
Other times the best thing is to just get the question out there. If someone has been noticeably down or perhaps been away from work, then they may appreciate you not beating around the bush. Questions you may wish to ask could be:
- “I’ve noticed you’ve been away recently, is everything OK?”
- “I’ve been seeing that you haven’t been yourself lately, is there anything that you’d like to talk about?”
- “I’ve been worried about you. Do you want to talk about it?”
Whichever approach you take, remember to be mindful of their situation and to not push too hard. This could have the opposite effect and may drive someone away.
Step 3: Become an awesome listener
So they’ve decided to open up to you – great! Your job now is to make sure that they know you are there for them by being a good listener. Some things you may wish to do include:
- Maintaining a good level of eye contact
- Gently nodding when someone is speaking
- Saying things such as “I understand”, “I hear you” or “I’m sorry to hear that” to provide them with assurance – but be authentic!
- Paraphrasing what they said back to them
Unless they actually ask for it, don’t rush to provide advice. In some instances, just knowing that you care for them is all that someone may be looking for.
Step 4: Be open to talking about yourself
Nothing shows empathy more than letting your loved one know about your experiences. Don’t be afraid to open up about similar challenges that you’re having or have had in the past. This can help them feel as if what they are saying won’t be judged and normalises what they are going through.
Don’t worry if you haven’t got anything to relate to. It doesn’t need to be specific to a mental health issue, even just expressing what gets you down or worried can be enough.
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Step 5: Keep on checking in
Once you’ve come to the end of your mental health conversation, firstly thank them for opening up! It’s not always easy talking about sensitive topics. Be sure to maintain regular check ins with them, as well as providing encouragement if you see improvements in their mood or behaviour!
Unless they have agreed, keep all details of the conversation private unless you think that there is a threat to harm themselves or someone else. If you aren’t sure what to do, you may wish to refer them to charities like Samaritans who are there to provide 24/7 support
What if someone doesn't want to talk?
If you suspect someone is going through a difficult time but they aren’t willing to open up yet, don’t be disheartened. Let them know that you are there for them if they ever need. You may want to increase the number of activities you do together or stay in contact more frequently.
Just remember to be patient, and understand that it’s their personal choice to talk about it or not.
Talking about mental health can be difficult for both parties and it’s important to make sure that you look after yourself and get support if you need it!