How to talk about mental health

by | Sep 8, 2022 | Mental Health, Anxiety, Carers, Psychology, Relationships, Self-Care | 0 comments

On this R U OK Day, we are well aware of the importance of mental health and the need to talk about it. The news is flooded with the mental health strain of COVID lockdowns and isolation. We know it’s important to check in with those we care about. But creating the opportunities to talk openly about mental health can be hard. Below are some helpful principles to consider when starting conversations about mental health.

Where to talk?

While you know your relationship best, try to pick a place that is going to feel safe and comfortable for them to talk openly with you. It can be helpful to have conversations about mental health when there is a joint activity or focus, or reduced need for sustained eye contact e.g.

  • Going for a drive
  • Going out for a walk
  • Catching up for a coffee or something to eat

When should we talk?

It can be best to plan ahead for when a good time might be to have a proper conversation. Try to find a time when you have enough time to listen properly and are unlikely to be disrupted or cut off.

You don’t have to wait until things seem particularly bad, or for when you’re sure someone isn’t okay. It’s important to check in regularly with people we’re connected to. A first conversation might be just to show you’re open to talking about important topics – it might only be at a second or third check in that your friend is ready to share.

The aim of talking openly about mental health will never be firstly to fix the problem. Rather, it’s a chance to show the other person you hear them, understand, and are coming alongside them in working through it together.

What to say?

Ask questions

There is no single correct way to talk about mental health. What is important is to show that you care and you are ready to listen. It can be helpful to start with open questions – like “What’s happening for you?” or “How’ve you been going with everything?”. It is often better to create a space to share and listen, rather than provide advice or problem solve.

Share observations

You can also share concerns that you have from your own perspective, for example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been a lot quieter when we catch up all together. Is there anything going on for you?”

Provide reassurance

It can be hard to be vulnerable, so it can be helpful to encourage the person who has shared with you, reminding them they’re not alone, that you are there for them, and there are lots of options for ongoing support.

And remember:

If they don’t want to talk, respect that choice. You’ve already shown you’re open to talking honestly about mental health and how they’re feeling. You also don’t need to have all the answers – encourage them to connect with their local GP to get a mental health care plan, or engage with online mental health supports – such as Beyond Blue or Head to Health. For additional resources for yourself, the RUOK website has excellent information on how to check in and support loved ones. You can also access more resources from our website here at the Centre For Effective Living.