By Megan Shinner | Advice Editor
In light of mental health week during October, and Movember coming to a close, we must keep spreading awareness and destigmatising mental health all year round. According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK experiences a mental health problem each year. This is 16.8 million people. Below are some things to keep in mind whilst talking about mental health and how to deal with a difficult conversation.
Listening is Key
Knowing how to bring up a serious conversation regarding mental health or how to respond once you have started one can be a difficult thing to do. Although, you don’t need to do much at all in some cases. Sometimes, we just need to let our thoughts out and address what is worrying us or stressing us out. Becoming frustrated or being upset is a completely natural response with no shame attached. A problem shared is always a problem halved. However, these conversations may have more to them than nerves around exams or stressing about deadlines. A friend may turn to you and want to openly discuss their mental health with you or to let you know of their situation. As long as you are okay with this, it is a very important conversation you will have, but it’s also important that it is dealt with in the right way.
The first step is to not attempt to casually relate to someone. Examples of this are when people use OCD as an adjective; “I’m so OCD!”, telling someone with anxiety to “just stop thinking about it, it’ll all be fine”, or someone with depression that “we all get sad sometimes”. Understandably, you may think you are trying to help them by reducing the worry around the situation. However, it can come across as invalidating their feelings. Simply showing your support by saying: “I am listening, and I understand what you are saying” and asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” is a good way to go about this difficult conversation. There is no black-and-white way to help someone as different mental health illnesses affect every sufferer differently. You will never be expected to cure someone’s mental health illness or to make anxiety or depression go away; this is not expected of you and your friend won’t expect it from you. The opening of this conversation is a mixture of trust, respect, and comfort within your friendship. All you need to do to show this is to simply listen and to listen well.
This doesn’t mean reading tons of psychology books or endlessly researching different kinds of mental health illnesses and disorders. Our understanding of mental health will always change and develop yet our knowledge applies in our everyday conversations and content engagement. Searching through trusted social media accounts and reliable websites, like the NHS or Mind, is a great place to start learning about the different mental health illnesses and disorders. There is some great information out there on symptoms of different mental health conditions, how to ask for help, or places to read about different illnesses simply for you to understand them. Dr. Alex George is the current Mental Health Ambassador and has released a documentary in aid of Children in Need to show the current youth mental health crisis in the UK. His social media is also used to spread awareness.
In some cases, educating yourself also includes un-educating yourself. Stigma and stereotypes can be very harmful to anyone; it may discourage sufferers from speaking out and it may give someone who doesn’t fully understand a certain mental health condition false information. If we continue to associate mental health with its stereotypes and discuss mental health with such stigma, the conversation will never get easier, and the false assertions will never go away. One thing we can always be in control of is ourselves, and what we say. Make sure that you understand the difference between stereotype and fact so when you discuss information regarding mental health, you are putting the right information out into the world. Normalising mental health and discussing it without a shameful or negative tone is also a great way to make a positive impact on the general discussion.
If you ever find a conversation distressing or you are worried about yourself or someone else; there is always someone you can contact. Samaritans have a 24/7 phone line (116 123) for anyone in emotional distress and Cardiff University has Nightline (02920870555). Mind also has a non-urgent inquiries line.