Today is Time to Talk Day. The day where we all take a little time to get a conversation going about mental health. According to Time to Change, mental health affects 1 in 4 of us, yet so many of us are embarrassed to talk about it. Time to Talk Day encourages everyone to start a conversation about mental health, and to mark that occasion, I’ve put together my top tips on how to have that conversation. As someone with experience of mental health difficulties, I’ve drawn inspiration not just from research but from my own personal experience of what I’ve found helpful too. Take a look and I hope they get you feeling inspired to get talking!
How many times have you just shrugged and said “I’m fine” when someone asks how you are? That’s the norm, right? Sometimes it’s this view that can prevent someone from opening up, and someone might say they’re fine when actually, they’re not. I’ve done it many times in the past. Mainly because there’s always a part of my brain that says the person who’s asked doesn’t really want to know that I’ve spent the last hour mentally running through the list of things I now need to Dettol because a small child coughed as they walked past me. But the thing is, for me, talking that sort of situation over is actually a really good way to defuse it. Not because I’m asking for reassurance, but because by talking it through with someone, I’m able to process it. Saying it out loud usually is enough to make me start to realise that my thoughts are irrational and it’s just my OCD that’s dictating my behaviour.
You’ve probably heard of the “Ask Twice” campaign that Time to Change launched, and it’s a great initiative to get people talking about mental health. You can read plenty of tips for conversation starters on their website here, as well as more information on the campaign itself.
Take it Seriously
When a friend or loved one decides to open up to you about their mental health, it’s important to realise that doing so is probably incredibly difficult. Sharing your thoughts is a really personal thing anyway, but for someone with a mental health difficulty it can be much more tough, especially if they’re experiencing thoughts they find embarrassing or disturbing. That’s why it’s important to take what they’re saying seriously. Listen to them, don’t laugh, and don’t treat it like a joke. Humour can be a great tool when it comes to dealing with mental health difficulties, but there’s a time and a place.
Be Flexible and Understanding
Let’s be honest, most of us have cancelled something because we haven’t felt up to it. That’s perfectly okay of course, but I’m sure many of us will have felt the immense amount of guilt that comes with it.
For example, on my birthday last year, we arranged for some friends to come over for a bit of a game night. My husband went out and bought booze, mixers, and even a birthday cake to be brought out for me. I was so excited…until I had a massive panic attack. To make things even worse, it struck within the half hour before my friends were due to arrive. I did my best to ride it out, but right up to the time they were due to turn up, I felt horrific. It eventually got to the point where my husband had to phone our friends and tell them not to come – thankfully, two hadn’t left yet, however minutes later another friend arrived outside our house. I was absolutely heartbroken watching Liam go outside and explain everything to him, but I genuinely don’t think I could have managed to sit through an evening of socialising after that intense panic attack. However, my point is this – my friends were fine about it. The three friends in question didn’t say a thing.
Obviously me bailing at literally the last minute was probably annoying AF and I 100% do not blame them if they were pissed off at it, however, when I next saw them, there were no hard feelings whatsoever. They were lovely about it and they didn’t make me feel guilty at all. For that I will be incredibly grateful to S, C & J.
My point is, if someone bails on plans at the last minute, don’t make them feel guilty over it. The guilt they’re dealing with already for cancelling is insane, and trust me, they don’t need any more added to that. Instead, tell them you’re here for them and offer up the chance to do something another time.
Regularly Check In
Never underestimate the power of a quick message. Even if you don’t have the time to meet for a full on catch up, just sending a friend or loved one a quick message to say you’re thinking of them will mean the world. Just asking “how are you?” is enough to start a conversation. Sometimes, the answer you get back might just be “I’m fine thanks, you?” and thanks okay – you’ve checked in, and you’ve made the effort. The fact you’ve done that will still mean everything to that person. Of course, making plans to meet up properly is even better, but if you don’t have the time, small gestures like a text or a WhatsApp message will make a huge difference.
If you know someone living with a mental health difficulty, do your research properly. By that, I mean don’t go by what you’ve seen on telly. In the case of OCD for example, I get: “I know what you mean, I like to keep things tidy as well.” No hun. You don’t get it. Take the time to look into what your loved one is experiencing – Mind is a great place to start as it has plenty of information on a wide variety of mental health issues and can give you some insight into the different ways the conditions manifest.
Change the Subject
I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of this at times. It’s incredibly easy when someone tells you what’s bugging them for you to respond with “If it makes you feel any better…” and instantly tell them your problems on top. Look, the basics of a good conversation is an equal amount of give and take, however, if someone has taken the time to open up to you about their difficulties, instantly switching the subject to something else is a bit of a kick in the tits. Opening up about their mental health may be difficult for them, so if you were to suddenly change the subject it may make them feel as if they don’t matter, or that their feelings are invalid. Of course, you matter too, but be mindful of how difficult it is for them to open up in the first place.
Brush it Off
With anxiety, we look for reassurance. However, when literally every worry you bring up is met with “Oh, it’ll be fine,” it can often make things worse. Yes, we’re getting that reassurance, but a response like this is dismissive and again can imply that your feelings don’t matter. Even if to you, your loved ones fears seem stupid or irrelevant, acknowledge them properly and take them seriously. A loved ones’ fear may mean nothing to you, but it can be everything to them.
Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Mental health difficulties are hard to understand. I say that as someone with a mental health difficulty themselves. If you don’t quite understand something when a loved one is talking about their condition, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Personally, I’d prefer someone to ask me about my condition as opposed to making assumptions or not quite understanding it fully. Quite often, this also gives them an opportunity to open up too, so if there’s something you’re not quite sure of, just ask!
Remember, the aim of Time to Talk Day is to start a conversation about mental health. However you do it, the most important thing is that you’re making an effort to be there for your loved one. Take a step towards removing the stigma around mental health this February!
Find out more about Time to Talk Day here. What are your top tips for starting a conversation about mental health? Let me know in the comments and let’s get a conversation going!