We’re always being encouraged to talk more about our mental health, and now more than ever it is really important to put yourself out there and make these discussions happen.
As COVID-19 continues to create social and economic pressures – such as worries about catching the virus, job and money difficulties, disruption to our routines – it may be that you’re worried about a friend, or want to check in with a family member or colleague. You might be struggling yourself.
We all want to be there for the people we care about. However, when it comes to actually starting a conversation that seems “deep” or emotional it can be really daunting – what if you offend them? What if you say the wrong thing? There are so many ‘what ifs’, but having an honest conversation about how we’re feeling with someone we trust can make a huge difference.
This Time to Talk Day, we want to encourage you to be proactive in reaching out to others to start that all important conversation about mental health, as well as open up yourself if you need to. To help you do this, here are 5 tips for starting conversations about mental health:
Don’t worry about finding the “right” moment, just speak when it feels natural
There’s no need to overthink about where, when and how these conversations will take place – just let them arise in every day settings. Often, it’s much easier to speak about our feelings when we’re doing something that feels routine, or in places that are more natural, rather than setting up something formal. For example, jogging in the park or whilst eating dinner. The more typical the setting, the less uncomfortable the conversation can feel. More than this, speaking in more typical settings can help us make these conversations a regular, normal part of our lives. Doing something else at the same time also takes the pressure away to fill silences, maintain eye contact, and “finish” the conversation in a particular way. Everyone is different, so think about which environment you are likely to both feel most comfortable in.
Talk about your own feelings and experiences
By being open about your own struggles and experiences with mental health, you’re sending a message to others that you’re comfortable talking about your emotions and there won’t be any judgement if they choose to do the same. If you want someone to open up to you, sharing your own vulnerabilities can help someone feel safe to do so.
If you have your own mental health problems and it feels right for you, you can talk about your personal experiences. However, you don’t have to disclose a mental health problem or share your story if you don’t want to – you might not have any personal experience to draw from. It could be as simple as sharing that you feel down sometimes, or talking about something that has been on your mind recently. This can help people feel that they’re not alone.
Ask twice and check in more than once
Often we don’t feel like we can be honest when someone asks “how are you?” because we think they’re just being polite. However, if that person makes the point to ask again “no, really, is everything ok?” we know that they’re asking us seriously and really care about how they’re doing. Even if someone doesn’t feel ready to open up in that moment, your insistence will let them know you’ll be there to listen when they’re ready.
Use social media to your advantage
With lockdowns and restrictions still in place, it may not always be possible to speak to someone in person. However, social media is an excellent way to keep in touch with people and you can still make use of video chatting to start a conversation. This way, you’ll still be able to see someone’s facial expressions and read their body language. More than this, some people find it easier to talk about things via text or email. Just make sure you really connect with that person, rather than just liking a post or sharing a funny video.
Don’t be afraid to address the elephant in the room
If you know that someone has experienced mental illness – don’t shy away from checking in. For example, maybe they took some time off work recently, or spoke about it in the past. Although it may not be appropriate to bring up specific details, there are respectful ways to show that you care. For example, by asking “how are things now?” or “are you back at work?”. If you notice someone hasn’t been acting like themselves its ok to bring that up too, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. For example, you could say “you’ve seemed a bit quieter than usual recently, is everything ok? I’m here if you want to talk”. Taking the time to check in shows that person there is nothing to feel awkward about, and they can always come to you to chat over something if they need to.
Look after yourself too and know where you can get support
We’re living in unprecedented times, and mental health has never been more important. It’s important to know that it’s ok to reach out for further help and support if you need it. There are so many people, organisations, services and resources out there to support us during difficult times. If it’s available to you, you could visit your GP or mental health professional for extra help.
Further mental health support at The College of Animal Welfare
If you’re a student or staff member with us, and you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your teacher, head of course or line manager – they are there to help and support you. We also offer lots of additional mental health support that you can access free of charge. Read more about this here.