Because our conversations and interactions are paramount
Broaching discussions around mental health isn’t always an easy thing to do. If we really want someone to open up about what they’re going through, a lot of careful thought needs to go into how we bring up the conversation, and an importance must be placed on how we can make them feel comfortable in voicing their experience and thoughts.
In our day-to-day conversations, it can oftentimes be a challenge to shift the topic from something casual and light-hearted to something a little more deep. Despite the fact that conversations about mental health can be difficult to bring up, the impact it could have for someone in the grips of mental ill-health is far from trivial. Conversations like these often help people who are going through a rough patch to open up about what they’re going through, and it acts to normalise the topic. It also might just pave the way for their return to a healthier state of mind.
So, how can we check in with our mates? When we engage in a good conversation, in most instances we choose a topic that comes naturally – something we are interested in or enjoy. A chat about how we are feeling usually sits outside of the norm, but this doesn’t make broaching the conversation about mental health impossible. There are certain things we need to consider if we want the person we are talking to, to feel comfortable opening up.
Having the right mindset. With a sensitive topic like mental health, the last thing we want to do is come off as rude, dismissive or impatient. Conversations like these often require some patience and genuine care, to allow the other person to comfortably express what’s on their mind. For some people, opening up about their problems isn’t something they’re used to, and the concept of voicing their concerns and embracing vulnerability can be quite daunting. If you feel like you’re not in the right mood to lend an ear and listen to what they have to say without judgement, feel free to park it – but make sure you bring it up another time.
Choosing the setting. Before checking in with your mate, consider where and when you might want to initiate this conversation. It might seem obvious, but some settings are certainly better than others. For example, trying to start the conversation in a group setting or in the middle of a game of footy might not be the best way to go about it. Consider taking them out for a cup of coffee, a stroll in the park, or a quiet arvo at the pub. Finding the right moment, and creating a calm and trusting environment is crucial if you really want an authentic and meaningful response.
Starting the conversation. Once you’re in the right state of mind and you’ve found an opportune moment to broach the topic, it’s time to think about how we can ask them how they’re going without seeming too forceful or contrived. It’s important to note that the same approach might not work for all people and you may need to adapt to how the conversation is progressing, but here are some ideas to get the conversation flowing :
How’s work been going lately?
How are you getting on with [friend / partner]?
How are you feeling about [stressful event]?
These are just to get the ball rolling, but follow-up questions are imperative to continue to encourage the person to open up. The more you show interest without judgment or opinion, in what they have to say, the more likely they are to divulge their concerns or feelings.
If you’re able to notice the signs of mental ill-health, you might want to consider broaching the topic in a more direct way. We’ve included some examples below as to what this might sound like..
I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately. If you have something on your mind, I’m here if you ever want to talk it out.
You seem to be pretty distant lately. Are you managing okay?
It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, but just letting you know that I’m here for you and you don’t have to go through this alone.
Direct comments like these can not only help someone feel comfortable being honest, but it also expresses genuine care, and shows that they have someone to turn to when they’re ready to open up, perhaps down the track.
Now that you have a foundation to start that important conversation, here are some tips to keep in mind.
Relay some of your personal struggles and experiences with mental ill-health. Putting your vulnerability on display can help create a safespace for someone to share theirs in return. It can also help reiterate that it’s okay to show vulnerability sometimes and that talking about these types of things is welcome and not something they should be hesitant or ashamed of.
Really listen and engage with what the person has to say. Making eye contact with the person and offering affirmations (i.e. “I see”, “that must be tough”) at appropriate times can really make them feel heard. You don’t have to have all the answers but just the act of listening can mean the world to someone who has been keeping it in.
Putting yourself in their shoes is always a good exercise in empathy. Feeling like you have a stake in their plight will allow you to handle what they’re going through with the sensitivity and seriousness that it deserves.
Although starting the conversation about mental health can be sometimes tricky to spark, it can go a long way to assist in normalising the conversation, and helping others towards a better state of mind. That is why putting in the thought and care required to get this conversation going and keeping it productive is vital if we want to stay on top of mental ill-health in our community (especially given our current circumstances).
The approach we take in starting this conversation is of critical importance, and it’s worth being prepared if we want the best for the people we care about. Equipped with these pointers, see if you can make a positive difference in someone’s life. Take them out for a coffee, or a walk in the park and check in on how they’re doing. It might be the first opportunity they have had to open up, and it could make a world of difference.
To get in touch with mental health support services, click here.