I rarely used to talk about how I was feeling or open up when I was struggling. Since getting help for depression and anxiety, I’ve seen the importance of talking to support our mental health.
I now talk more about how I feel with people I trust and look for help early. I find that it helps me to
- get a different perspective on things, usually helping me to take a step back and have a bigger picture view of what’s on my mind; and
- reduce the amount that negative thoughts can run out of control.
Listening and Providing Support to Others
The stigma around mental health is reducing. We can help continue this trend by supporting others, encouraging them to talk, and listening.
We continue to live in uncertain times. Here in the UK, we have the prospect of further covid restrictions and have been advised to work from home once again. It’s more challenging to notice if someone may be struggling, and therefore it’s more important than ever to ask people how they are.
However, it can be an automatic response to say we’re okay, even when we’re not. When I was dealing with my depression, I would regularly say that I was fine when I was struggling.
One way to gently push past the automatic response from someone is to follow up by asking them again or in a different way. This can be enough to encourage someone who is struggling to open up and talk.
Time to Change’s “Ask Twice” campaign offers a lot of helpful suggestions on how to do this and how to have the conversation if someone does open up.
Where To Have the Conversation?
If you are concerned about someone, where do you have the conversation? Generally, this would be somewhere that the other person feels comfortable, which might be over a coffee or in a quiet room in ordinary circumstances.
When I talk about things that are on my mind, I find that it can be difficult over Zoom. Not only because of Zoom fatigue, but it can also feel uncomfortable to have a mental health conversation staring face-to-face with someone on a computer screen.
However, a simple “walk and talk” phone call could be a great option in these more socially distanced times.
By putting in headphones and going out for a walk, I find that this can take the pressure off the conversation and be more natural. It also makes the conversation more private than having a call within the house and provides that added well-being boost from getting some fresh air and exercise.
What To Say?
There’s lots of helpful information out there to help you feel more confident about talking about mental health, such as this resources page from the mental health charity Mind.
As human beings, we have a strong urge to help fix the problem and also a desire to build affinity by talking about our own experiences.
One of the big lessons that I took from the mental health first aid training I attended was the importance of just being there for someone and listening. We can be tempted to say, “I know how you feel” or “that happened to me too”, but this takes the conversation away from what the other person is experiencing.
Resisting that temptation and simply listening, questioning or playing back what you’re hearing is so powerful. It gives the person the space to be heard and articulate what they are experiencing, possibly for the first time.
Although it feels difficult, it’s also reassuring to know that it isn’t your role to fix the problem. You could signpost support resources, such as the doctor or a helpline, but we aren’t all trained professionals and don’t need to be.
An example I heard that brings this home is that if a friend broke their leg, you wouldn’t start scurrying around to put together a makeshift plaster cast or attempt to fix it. You might, though, drive them to the hospital or call emergency services, all the while being there to comfort and reassure them.