How to talk about mental health

Around the time of World Suicide Prevention Day and other mental health awareness days like it, it is often said that one of the best ways to manage your mental health is to talk to others if you need support. However, how do you exactly have these conversations?

It is not always as easy as just opening your mouth and talking about what’s going on in your head, so here are some suggestions of how to start these conversations, in ways that may be helpful to you.

1.      Are you able to talk to someone who you feel will support you? There are lots of people you can confide in if you feel like you need to talk- parents, friends, extended family, teachers and organisations such as Off the Record, Childline and Samaritans who will listen to you and support you. If you go to school, there’s likely to be a pastoral support worker who you can make an appointment with, or a teacher who can direct you to them. The key is to find someone you trust, who you think will be understanding and supportive, as even if they don’t have all the answers, they’ll be able to help you in finding the right support.

2.      How would you like to start that conversation? Do you want to write everything down and put it in a letter? Or perhaps send a text, an e-mail, or make a phone call? Talking to someone about mental health does not have to be a face-to-face conversation if you don’t want it to be- it’s about how you feel most comfortable communicating. You could send a text/e-mail like:

“Hi (name of trusted person), if you feel able to I would really appreciate having a chat about some things that have been going on with my mental health recently. Would you be able to have a chat about that? “

Or if you are having a face-to-face conversation, for example with a teacher or parent, you could say:

“Do you mind if we have a chat for a few minutes? I’m struggling with my mental health at the moment, and it would mean a lot if we could talk about it.”

We would always hope that someone we trust has the time to talk to us about something like mental health, but sometimes friends in particular may feel nervous about having this conversation, or it might be too difficult for them due to their own personal boundaries and experiences, or a family member might be busy when you say you want to talk- it is important to remember that just because one person can’t talk to you for whatever reason, it doesn’t mean no-one else will talk to you, or that you don’t deserve to have that space to talk about mental health. Perhaps make a list of people you trust to try to talk to, just in case the first person you talk to says they are unavailable.

3.      What would you like that person to know?

-How long have you been struggling with your mental health for?

Are you experiencing anxiety, low mood, stress, hallucinations, problems eating? Or anger, feeling out of control, trapped? It can be hard to think about your exact feelings in the moment, so maybe think about what you’re experiencing beforehand so you know what to say.

-What is your mental health affecting? Is it affecting relationships with partners, family, friends, or affecting your schoolwork, uni-work, job? Are you able to sleep and eat?

-Has something happened that has triggered this for you? You may not feel comfortable discussing this, and that’s okay. It’s just something you could answer if you would like to.

-In particular if you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or harming yourself or others, this is important to mention if you are comfortable talking about this. The other person will need to know this if they are going to ensure you are safe- particularly if they are a trusted adult.

Talking about mental health can really help, and hopefully these ideas have given you some suggestions on how you can bring up that conversation with someone in your life. There is always someone who will listen to you, for example:

Childline- 0800 11 11

Switchboard LGBT+- 0300 330 0630

Off the Record- 01225 312481

Samaritans- 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org

KOOTH

Check out this brilliant video ‘Small Talk Saves Lives - Everyday small talk’ by the Samaritans

However, in a crisis, always call 999 or Samaritans so that you can receive support and help quickly. Talking about mental health struggles can be difficult, but it is a very brave thing to do. Asking for help is always a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

Jayme, Student Placement LGBT+ Youth Worker