Time to Talk Day on Thursday, 1st February is a day dedicated to creating supportive communities by having conversations with family, friends, or colleagues about mental health.
Run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, SAMH (Scottish Action for Mental Health) and See Me in Scotland, Inspire in Northern Ireland, and Time to Change Wales in Wales, the campaign aims to end mental health stigma and discrimination.
It can be really tricky to talk about mental health, and many people who have mental health problems find it difficult to reach out. So, Dr Katy James, mental health clinical director at Vita Health Group, has shared tips on how to help a friend, family member, or colleague talk about how they are feeling.
Dr James explains, “Talking about mental health can feel difficult, and it can be uncomfortable for many of us with mental health problems to reach out. But the small act of talking can make a big difference to someone suffering. There is no right or wrong way to talk about mental health. However, these tips will help guide you in how to talk to someone in a helpful way.”
Think about the location
When you talk to a person experiencing mental health problems, it may be easier for them to talk side by side or while you’re doing an activity. Consider talking to the person while walking or doing a puzzle together instead of face-to-face, which can feel overwhelming. If the person still feels unable to talk, you could suggest they write their thoughts down on paper for you to read instead.
Ask open-ended questions
Avoid closed questions that spark a yes or no response. Instead, opt for open, not leading questions, such as “How do you feel about that?”, “How is this affecting you?” or “What can I do to help you?”
Be patient and listen
Not everyone will be ready to talk about their feelings, and that’s OK. Although you may find it unnatural, allow for silence in the conversation and be patient. Reassure the person that there is no judgement and that you will be there for them when they are ready to talk.
Do not try to fix the person’s problem
Try to resist the urge to fix the person’s mental health problem. The best thing you can do in the moment is to be present and listen. Your emotional support is really important to that person.
Help in other ways
If the person is not ready to talk, there are other ways you can support them. Help in practical ways, such as picking up their food shop or cleaning their home.
Suggest they seek professional support
Your friend, family member, or colleague may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional. If they live in England and are aged 18 or over, they can access NHS Talking Therapies services for anxiety and depression. A GP can refer them, or they can refer themselves directly.
NHS talking therapies services offer:
- talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling, other therapies, and guided self-help
- help for common mental health problems, like anxiety and depression