It's May which means its Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) and time to get people talking. Because the more we talk about mental health, the more we can help put an end to the stigma and discrimination that can prevent people from having life-changing conversations. As people across the world are facing stressful and triggering experiences right now, it's never been more important.
Whether it’s you who’s struggling with a mental health problem or someone you care about, talking about it can make a huge difference.
But how do you start a conversation like that?
Hope Health's Founder, Nicole O’Callaghan says:
“At Hope Health we train people how to have that very important and sometimes life changing conversation. Our Instructor Members are trained by Mental Health First Aid England who are the only licensed provider, where Instructor Members have completed the training accredited by the Royal Society for Public Health. We provide a safe, inclusive learning environment and are trained to support people through the whole journey."
So we asked Hope Health's mental health experts for their top tips for talking about mental health.
Here’s what they suggest.
5 tips to help you talk about your mental health:
1. It's Ok not to be ok- accept that you’re experiencing difficulties and that it’s OK to feel the way you do. Most of us struggle with our mental health at some point, or points, in our lives; it’s not uncommon and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
2. You are not alone – whether it’s a member of your family, a friend, colleague, your GP or someone at the end of a helpline, support is available – you just need to reach out for it.
3. Be honest with people when they ask- Often when someone asks how we are, we automatically answer that we’re “good” or “fine”. But if they ask a second time, or if they express concern, you can take it they’re genuinely interested, not just making polite conversation, and that it’s OK to be honest about how you’re feeling.
4. Change the scenery- If you find it difficult to open up about your thoughts and feelings, try talking while walking. It sounds like such a small thing, but taking away eye contact can make it a lot easier to approach difficult subjects openly and honestly.
5. A problem shared is a problem halved - don’t underestimate the power of talking about your mental health issues – far from being a sign of weakness, acknowledging to others that there’s a problem can be incredibly empowering and a huge relief. It’s also an important step towards accessing the help you need, whether that’s the support and understanding of a loved one, a reduced workload or time off to recuperate, or professional treatment. And it’s not just for your own benefit; talking openly about your mental health helps break down the stigma that can keep problems hidden and put an end to the silent suffering of others.
And what if you’re OK but you’re worried that someone else you know is struggling?
5 tips to help someone open up about mental health:
1. Don’t wait for the perfect moment - but it is also important that the conversation happens at the time and in places that feel natural. Suggest going for a walk– face-to-face conversations can feel intimidating, especially for someone who’s uncomfortable or unused to talking about their feelings. Walking or sitting side-by-side can be a better way to broach difficult subjects and enable them to talk openly.
2. Ask twice. If you’re worried someone may be struggling, ask them how they are doing. If they answer with “I’m Fine”, ask again. Say something like “No, really, is everything ok? Asking twice shows people you’re genuinely interested, not just making polite conversation, and that you’re ready and willing to help. Even if they do not feel like talking at this stage they will know you are there to listen when they are ready.
3. Share your own feelings- Sharing your own feelings can make someone feel safe and makes it clear you’re happy to talk about feelings and that there will not be any judgement. You don’t have to disclose a mental health problem to them – you might not have any personal experience of one. It could be as simple as sharing that you get down sometimes or sharing something that you’ve been worrying about recently.
4. Non judgemental listening — If someone is ready to talk, be ready to listen - without judgement or attempting to ‘fix’ them or offer up a solution. Providing a safe environment for someone to offload makes it easier for them to talk freely and frankly about their thoughts and feelings.
5. Encourage support - encourage them to seek professional help from their GP or one of the many support services available. If they don’t want to, don’t force it; instead make them aware of the resources available and how to reach them, so they can do so in their own time if they choose to. If you have mental health first aiders in the workplace encourage them to have a conversation with them.
For more information on how to have these conversations and take part in Mental Health First Aid Training, contact one of our wellbeing experts to discuss the training available.