How To Talk About Mental Health

Speaking openly can play an important role in someone’s recovery.

There’s so much talk about mental health these days. So much so that, at times, it can seem as though every other day we're hearing about another celebrity who's speaking out about their personal battle. And this is great, right? Well, maybe.

There’s no doubt enlisting the help of celebrities and other high-profile people to talk about “the cause” helps to raise much-needed awareness. It absolutely does. In fact, it’s great to hear how we’re all the same. That, indeed, mental health isn’t just a disease affecting a rare few, but rather it’s a continuum of wellness affecting all of us.

The problem is when celebrities talk about mental health we praise them. We say, ‘Oh, how brave he is!’ and ‘I don’t know how she does it!’ But then when those who are closest to us reach out, the conversation doesn’t always elicit the same reaction.

Psychologist Clare Mann told ten daily it can be enormously difficult to have conversations about other people’s mental health -- partly due to the stigma in society -- but it’s important to be open to raising the issue. The key is to have a unique approach depending on who you're talking to.

Here are some tips to help you start the conversation.

Talking to a partner

Having a conversation about mental health with your partner is never easy -- especially given the personal attachment. But there are ways to make it easier.

“Raising the issue depends on the ease with which you and your partner communicate generally,” Mann explains.

If you regularly discuss issues to do with values and feelings that’s great! But if you don’t, it will be unfamiliar territory and can quickly become a difficult conversation.

Mann advises to remain calm and supportive. “Focus on the personal concern you have for your partner. Tell them how much you care for them, and remind them that you’re in this together and can find a way through it,” she says.

Talking to a friend

Speaking to friends about their mental health can play an important role in their recovery. What’s important to remember is to focus on the relationship not the illness.

Start by saying, ‘I really value our friendship’ and tell them how you’re concerned that they appear to not be coping as well as before.

Gauge their response and if they’re open to discussing it, go further and be tentative, giving the other person the opportunity to express how they are feeling.

“Open the conversation up, and allow the person to gradually provide details. Don’t talk about specific problems but normalise things by saying things like, ‘life can be challenging’ and ‘I’m not always on top of my game, too’,” says Mann.

Talking to a child

It can be difficult to find the right words to say to a child who’s dealing with mental health issues. In many cases, you may not even know there is an underlying issue.

“Young people are enormously robust and often have the defences that adults do to ‘keep face’,” Mann explains.

Speak to them in a way appropriate to their age. “Don’t be superior or indicate you’re the adult and know better. Say things like, ‘Hey, when I was young I had some challenges, too. And it really helped to talk to an adult,” she advises.

Ask them open-ended question such as, ‘How are you coping with things?’ And give them an opportunity to open up. “It’s unlikely they will tell you everything but knowing they can trust you is a terrific start,” Mann says.

Always respect the child’s independence and involve them in the solution. If it’s not your child -- and they are under pressure from bullying -- offer to help them broach the subject with their parents.

Talking to a parent

Many people are afraid to talk to their parents about mental illness out of fear of upsetting them. They’ve known you all your life, and may hold the view that they should always be the strong ones and to show signs of weakness is wrong.

The first step is to ask your parent’s permission to have the conversation. Continue to say you love them and appreciate them being there for you over the years, but now it’s time to return the favour.

“Give them permission to not be perfect, and position yourself as the adult who has received help from them, and say how you want to ensure they are ok, too,” Mann advises.

Talking to a workmate

It’s very likely you work with someone who has a mental health issue, but they probably don’t talk about it. And why should they? In our society, we’re made to feel guilty about having a sick day let alone discussing mental illness.

Creating a safe working environment where colleagues are able to talk openly about mental health is super important, she explains.

You may find your usually dependable colleague shows signs of stress by missing deadlines, failing to get work done, disappearing for long periods, or suddenly have outbursts or erratic behaviour.

“If you suspect there’s a problem, make contact with the person, be tentative, indicate you’re aware of the boundaries, and say you’re willing to help.”

If they’re receptive – that’s great. But if not, offer help in the form of contacts, helplines, and employee assistance.

“Be mindful to not become the person’s confidante. This can be tricky as you may find yourself in a difficult situation where the relationship boundaries become compromised,” she says.

Feature image: Getty.