Time to Talk Day is an annual awareness day held at the beginning of February. It’s a day for us all to start a conversation about mental health.
Mind estimates that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in the UK. Time to Talk provides us all with the perfect opportunity to encourage everyone you work with or your friends and family work with to talk about mental health so that everyone can get the help they need.
Cygnet Health Care Regional Director of Psychology, Matt Gill, shares his insight into how to encourage conversations about mental health and how to best support somebody who is opening up.
1. Why is it important to talk openly about our mental health?
Struggles with mental health can make us feel alone and that no one could possibly understand how we feel. However, everyone has likely experienced times when life feels ‘too much’. The more we open up as a society and normalise mental health difficulties, the more we can help others to see that they are not alone in their journey, there is light at the end of the tunnel and we can be here with them whilst they navigate their difficulties.
We don’t need to wait until we are struggling or notice someone else is to open up, it’s important to start the conversation now so that those around us know it is safe to share.
2. If somebody is struggling with their mental health, what advice would you share for how they can start talking about it to those they trust?
It is easy for us to want to avoid conversations about our mental health because they can be uncomfortable. Notice what comes up for you when you think about starting the conversation, it may be fear, shame or anxiety. Take a deep breath and approach yourself with warmth and compassion. Validate these feelings, pay attention to the parts of you that don’t want to open up and know that they are only feeling anxious about sharing because they want to protect you. Remind yourself that you are not alone in your struggles and that reaching out will bring opportunities for support and healing.
Think about what format you can use to make it feel as comfortable as possible for you. You might find it easier to write your experiences in a letter or a text, or talk over the phone rather than face to face, or share a bit at a time. Consider the time and place and pick something that works for you.
It can be helpful to practice what you want to say and prepare some ideas of what you might like them to do to help you. Choose the words you feel comfortable with using, know that your story is yours to own and share in a way that works for you.
Take some items with you that make you feel safe and help you to soothe yourself if you feel overwhelmed (i.e. a favourite smell or essential oil to spray, or an object that you like to hold).
3. If someone does open up to you about their mental health, it might not always feel easy to know what to say. What tips are there to help make sure we’re approaching it in a helpful way?
It can be difficult to know what to do when someone tells us they are struggling however, it is so important to talk about mental health and knowing how to approach this with compassion is key. Being compassionate is not only about being kind, it is about having the courage and understanding to turn towards suffering and help to alleviate it.
It is helpful to consider the following tips around how to listen with compassion:
• Acknowledge their courage to open up, tell them how proud they should be for reaching out
• Provide them with reassurance that you are there for them, that it is not their fault and they are not alone in their struggle
• Pay attention to what they are saying, consider your body language and give them the space they need to say what they want to say
• Validate what they are saying, show them you understand and believe them and thank them for sharing with you
• Stay calm and pay attention to what comes up for you, you might need to ground yourself at times during the conversation
• They may need further opportunities to share as opening up for the first time is the beginning of their journey so maintain contact and offer ongoing reassurance that you are there. It is also important to set some next steps
• Be patient with them, go at their pace and respect their boundaries
4. What other advice do you have for someone who is struggling with their mental health?
Know that acknowledging you are struggling and that you need help is the hardest part.
Remind yourself that although reaching out is scary it will help you to feel connected, understood and validated. It will make you fess alone in your struggles and will bring opportunities to heal.
Find ways to connect with yourself and the world around you, set aside time to do things you love as this will help you to reconnect with your own sense of joy. Create your own compassionate kitbag of items that make you feel safe and remind you to approach yourself with compassion. This might include smells that make you feel safe, quotes that motivate you, sensory toys to help you shift your focus, music that makes you feel happy and objects you find soothing to hold.
Know that your mental health struggles do not define you and you will find your way through this.