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It’s Time to Talk Day – here’s how to talk about mental health

Mental health can be hard to talk about–whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Time to Talk Day aims to change that. Run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, it’s about creating supportive communities by having conversations with family, friends, or colleagues about mental health.

In this article, we’ll share a few tips for starting those conversations, some useful guidance, and what not to say when somebody is struggling.

How to start a conversation about mental health

If you’re worried about someone, it’s always better to talk to them about it. Simply asking if someone is OK, and if there’s anything you can do to help, can have a tremendous impact. But it can be difficult to know what to say. Let’s start with the don’ts:

  • Don’t diagnose someone. Unless you’re a trained healthcare professional, it’s not your place to tell someone that you think they have depression or anxiety.
  • Don’t tell people to cheer up or snap out of it. Mental illness is more than a bad mood–the person could be dealing with deeply rooted trauma or a chemical imbalance in their brain. Comments like these may make someone worry that they’re overreacting and put them off seeking help.
  • Don’t give unsolicited advice. It’s unlikely that whatever you’ve just come up with hasn’t occurred to them. If someone asks for advice, you can suggest talking to their GP or offer general wellbeing tips like getting enough sleep, connecting with other people, and eating a balanced diet, but make it clear that different solutions work for different people.

The easiest way to start a conversation about mental health is the simplest: “How are you today?” If someone says they’re fine, make it clear that it’s a sincere question by asking one more time– “really, is everything OK?” But don’t keep asking if they don’t want to tell. You’ve made it clear that you’re there for them when they’re ready.

If there’s something specific that’s worrying you, you could bring this up directly–“You’ve seemed a bit quiet lately, is everything OK?” Do use a caring tone to make it clear you’re not criticising them–someone who’s struggling with mental illness may be feeling very guilty.

When someone does open up to you about their mental health, ask open-ended questions so that they can respond however they want. For example, “How long have you been feeling this way?” “What do you think might be causing this?” “How can I help?”

This will help you gain insight into how they’re feeling and whether to treat this as an emergency, suggest they see their GP, or suggest they take a look at resources like Mind.

End the conversation by reassuring them that you’re there for them if they want to talk in future–and if you can, follow up later to restate your support and see how they’re doing.

Simple as it sounds, conversations like these can and do save lives, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you spot someone struggling with any of these symptoms:

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

  • Behaving out of character
  • Eating more or less than normal
  • Excessive drinking and/or drug use
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling tense or anxious
  • Finding it hard to focus and struggling at work
  • Losing interest in hobbies
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Poor memory or forgetfulness
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Withdrawing from family and friends

Abacus recognise the importance of the mental health of its employees and workers and we have a fully trained Mental health first aider if anyone requires support.