7 tips for talking effectively about mental health
World Mental Health Day is a day for global engagement, education, and advocacy for all things mental health, and that day is today! Here we discuss the importance and vital need for talking about mental health and 7 tips for talking about mental health to people around you.
Trigger warning: mention of suicide.
This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is suicide prevention. Brighton has the third highest rate of suicide in the country. Grassroots is a Brighton based charity and is also the UK’s leading suicide prevention charity. Grassroots believe suicide prevention starts with talking and conversation but they know ‘small talk’ isn’t going to cut it. Grassroots promote the idea that ‘real talk’ saves real people’s lives. Unfortunately, despite vast improvements in social attitudes towards mental health, talking is still a constant struggle for some people due to social stigma. Here we outline how to talk about mental health.
1. Set aside time with little or no distractions.
This helps you focus on the topic at hand and ensures you aren’t interrupted. It is also a good idea to avoid places that may be loaded with meaning or judgement.
2. Let the person you’re talking to dictate the direction and pace of the conversation.
If they feel comfortable to share as much (or as little) as they feel they want to this will lead to a much more nurturing conversation. Pressuring them to share something they are not ready to talk about may be discouraging.
3. Listen actively so that you hear what is being said.
Looking at them, nodding, and staying mostly quiet apart from the occasional ‘mmm’, ‘yeah’ and ‘ok’ will show people you are listening. By repeating what they have said back to them you will further show them that you understand what they are saying at the same time as making sure you really do understand.
4. Do not provide solutions or a diagnosis.
This is a tricky one because sometimes you ‘just want to help!’ but often the best help is providing a space for people to talk and to be heard. Try to listen and support impartially and without judgement, this includes offering advice, assumptions, and solutions, unless specifically asked.
5. Ask open ended questions.
Yes or no questions are limiting but open ended questions gives someone room to discuss what they want (refer to tip number 2). Try asking ‘How are you feeling at the moment?’ instead of ‘Do you feel down today?’.
6. Ask them if they would like help seeking professional help and guidance from qualified sources.
This is not the same as providing solutions and advice which, as discussed in tip 4, is not helpful. Here you want to be highlighting advice as an option, asking if they would like to seek advice and supporting them in that endeavour should they choose to seek it.
7. Know your limits.
It is vital to make sure you don’t take on more than you can handle. If you believe someone is in danger or requires urgent medical attention then you need to take action to make sure they are safe. The Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day, in full confidence. Call 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This advice applies to everyone! No one is exempt from needing to nurture their mental health. That being said, there are certain groups that are more vulnerable than others. It is important to acknowledge that suicide rates are significantly higher in men. Men account for approximately 75% of all suicides in Brighton. The LGBTQ community, members of the black and minority ethnic community, people with drug and alcohol problems, those with physical health problems and young adults are also priority groups. By using these tips and talking to one another hopefully we can do our bit to work towards the prevention of suicide.