Time To Talk: How To Talk About Mental Health

Time To Talk: How To Talk About Mental Health

White teapot and teacup on top of scarf

Tomorrow (7th of February) is Time To Talk Day. Time To Change created this to encourage people to open up a conversation about mental health. But a lot of people don’t know how to talk about mental health.

Just how, exactly, do you go about this? Whether you’re concerned for someone else, or struggling yourself, it can be difficult to take the first steps.

Based on my own experiences, I’m sharing some suggestions with you today. Please keep in mind that, while I anticipate these would be appropriate measures to take, everyone is different.

Notebooks and pen on top of scarf with white teacup at the side

How to talk about mental health when you’re worried about someone

Ask twice

There was recently a campaign – also ran by Time To Change – called Ask Twice. The thinking behind it was that we all tend to say we’re fine, even if we’re not. So if you suspect someone is having a hard time, ask again.

Example

You: Hey, how are you?
Loved one: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?
You: I’m okay thanks, but are you sure you’re okay? You haven’t seemed yourself lately.

Sometimes, highlighting the fact you’ve picked up on them being a bit “off” can give them a gentle nudge to talk. The fact you’ve asked again suggests you care how they actually are, rather than merely out of politeness.

Let them know you’re there if they need you

Asking twice is not guaranteed to get someone to open up. The next step is to say something along the lines of “well, if there is something going on and you’d like to talk about it, I’m here for you.” This open offer is a low pressure way of letting someone know they can come to you in their own time.

It could be that the person isn’t ready to talk there and then, but may come around to the idea further down the line. Knowing they have someone they can reach out to makes a big difference!

Use “we”

One of the most important things Neal did, without even realising, was treating it like it was our problem. He said things like “we’re going to get you through this” and “we’ll do whatever it takes to make you feel better.”

I went from a place of feeling completely alone to feeling like I was part of a team. I had someone on my side, and no longer had to carry this burden alone.

If someone is opening up about their struggles, they are likely feeling very vulnerable. Using “we” can help them to realise, whatever journey is ahead, they’re not going to have to face it alone.

Be sensitive and avoid making it about you

Though you may have good intentions, saying things like “it’ll pass” is not necessarily helpful during a time when someone is opening up. It’s along the same sorts of lines as “you’ll get over it” and mental illness isn’t something you just get over. It takes work to move towards recovery.

I think a lot of us like to use our own experiences to help, but it’s important this person knows they’re being heard. If you really think it will add value (e.g. you have had your own dealings with mental illness) then share it. However, as much as possible, concentrate on listening rather than trying to fix things.

Be prepared

Some of what you will hear will be difficult. It may hurt your feelings because you care about this person. You may feel like you’ve failed them by letting it go so far and not helping them sooner. You might fall into the trap of questioning why they didn’t tell you.

Approach the subject with the knowledge that this isn’t personal to you. It’s likely this person has wanted to tell someone, but hasn’t known how. Or has had that dreadful little voice of mental illness telling them that no one cares, and not to burden others with their troubles.

The fact you are trying to support this person RIGHT NOW is hugely important, and you should be proud of it. Whatever they may say, however much it might sting, don’t let it become a situation where they feel guilty for opening up to you.

It could also be good to have a list of mental health organisations to offer – just in case you need them.  You don’t need to provide these immediately, but it’s good to have them to hand if the opportunity comes up.

Ask questions

Certain individuals may need a little help to steer the conversation. Some of the questions Neal asked me which I found helpful in our conversation were:

1) How long have you felt this way?

This encouraged me to really think about how long the feelings had been troubling me. Though I couldn’t pinpoint an exact date, I knew it had been building over the course of a few months.

The NHS uses two weeks as a guideline. Consistent or recurring symptoms during this time are generally a good indicator that someone is experiencing a mental health problem.

2) Is there anything that could be done to help?

You may very well get the same sort of response I gave. I whimpered “I don’t know” and continued crying. This is actually a good indication that there may be something deeper going on. If someone is unable to identify WHY they feel the way they do, it could be cause for concern.

Equally, life events can trigger mental illness. So it gives the person an opportunity to say “I’m unhappy in my relationship”, “my job is making me miserable”, “I feel lonely” etc. It may be this person needs support and encouragement to make some changes, or simply that they need to get it off their chest.

3) Do you think it would be worth speaking to a professional about the way you’ve been feeling?

I recommend keeping this question until the tail-end of the conversation, after you’ve given the person plenty of time to share how they feel.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that it can be hard to hear, especially if this is the first time someone is talking about their mental health. Through the course of my conversation with Neal and hearing my own thoughts out loud, I realised myself I desperately needed help. I’m glad I was given the opportunity to recognise it on my own terms, rather than having the idea planted from the start.

The second reason to delay it is to avoid the individual feeling like you’re passing them along to someone else. The following is an exaggerated example, to demonstrate my point.

You: Hey, how are you?
Loved one: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?
You: I’m okay thanks, but are you sure you’re okay? You haven’t seemed yourself lately.
Loved one: Well, actually, I’ve been feeling really low.
You: Maybe you should speak to your doctor?

Your advice may be justified, but the timing is poor. What they need in that moment is someone familiar, who they know and trust, to be there.

It’s important to bring the subject up at some point, so don’t dodge it altogether. Just be considerate of your timing and your wording.

Notebook on top of a scarf

How to talk about mental health when you’re struggling

Choose someone you trust and somewhere you will be comfortable

I was actually on the train reading Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig when it occurred to me it was time to talk about what I was going through. However, a train isn’t the best place to nudge your boyfriend and announce that you think you’re depressed.

So, I blinked back the tears, and waited until we were home. We were lying in bed. My mind was going a million miles a minute. Then the conversation began, and it all unravelled from there.

Choose the time, place and the person carefully. Ensure all of these factors are appropriate for you, and don’t give you any reason to feel uncomfortable or change your mind.

Use a way that feels right for you

Admitting that you’re struggling is very, very hard. Saying it out loud may feel like diving into the deep end. I think I needed to say it out loud, but that’s not going to be the same for everyone.

If you would prefer to write it down, either as a letter, a text message or an email, there’s nothing wrong with that approach. If you want to combine both, and perhaps write something then read it aloud to someone, then that’s another option.

The main thing is that you get it out there. The means you choose to do so are far less important.

Don’t worry about what you say

Whatever route you choose, don’t get caught up in trying to express yourself eloquently. Just be honest and let the words flow. Cry if you need to.

I bumbled and babbled my way through my conversation with Neal. At that point, I just needed to let it out. I didn’t have time to think about what I was saying as sentence after sentence tripped over each other coming out of my mouth. Luckily, Neal was able to connect the dots.

If you start getting hung up on that, you may never say anything at all. Again, the point is to say what you need to say. If it’s a bit messy and jumbled, it’s no big deal!

Be honest

Don’t sugarcoat it. If you’ve been going through hell, then say so. I know it’s hard because you don’t want people to worry about you, but it’s the best way for them to grasp where you are at mentally. It might not be pleasant, but it’s essential in deciding the help you might need.

For a month or so before I revealed the extent of my feelings, I would say things like “I’m just not having a good day, but I’ll be okay.” I constantly downplayed the way I felt. I could have saved myself a month of anguish if I’d come right out and said “I feel completely miserable and it’s not getting any better.”

Share as much or as little as you want to

I do recommend being as open as possible, but you need to take that at your own pace. It doesn’t have to all come out during one conversation. There’s no need to reel off every single detail if it’s going to make you feel worse. Talking about mental health struggles can be exhausting, so it’s perfectly okay to not feel up to letting it ALL out. There’s only really one thing you need to get across and that’s the fact you’re not okay.

Equally, if you want to get as much out in one go as you can, that’s fine, too! It’s sometimes easier when you’ve reached this point for it to all spill out. For me, it was definitely a case of once I started, it was hard for me to stop as I’d bottled it up for so long.

Don’t expect too much

It goes without saying that the person you’re talking to isn’t going to have all of the answers. They may not know what to say, and you need to be aware of that. Be grateful of the fact they want to listen to you and try to help. It is a sign that this person cares about you.

Ultimately, this conversation is an opportunity for you to talk about how you feel, so keep that in mind. The best outcome is that you’re given the space to express yourself. Ideally, you will gain more from it, but if all that happens is you get your feelings off your chest, let that be enough for the time being. It’s a big step in the right direction!

This is the starting point of a journey, not a quick fix. I promise you, you will feel better for talking about it.

Remember you’re not alone

There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health, which is one of the main reasons Time To Talk Day exists. So, I understand if you feel apprehensive about admitting how you feel. Just know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t make you weird. It doesn’t make you weak.

Mental illness affects 1 in 4 of us during our lifetimes. Just because it’s easier to hide than a physical illness doesn’t mean you should. It’s okay to talk about it. There are people who have been through the same thing, and they will understand. There are people who want to help you come through the other side.

It can feel like it will never go away, but recovery is possible. Often, it starts with a conversation.

Talk About Mental Health

How To Talk About Mental Health
How To Start A Conversation About Mental Health
Time To Talk
Tips For Starting A Conversation About Mental Health

16 Comments

  • Gem 6th February 2019 at 11:20 am

    A really thoughtful and sensitive post Ruth, so many great points covered x

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:09 am

      Thank you!

  • Cordelia Moor 6th February 2019 at 12:20 pm

    Love this, love you, so grateful this world has you in it to speak out about mental health and to write so eloquently and deliver the information so many people need. Amazing, amazing work.

    Cordelia || cordeliamoor.com

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:10 am

      Thank you, my angel!

  • Rebekah Gillian 6th February 2019 at 9:50 pm

    This was such a good blog post! I’ve just scheduled it to go live on my Facebook page tomorrow, during the #TimeToTalk day, because I think the message is super important.

    I love that you’ve provided both perspectives in this blog post. I feel like all too often we consider only what the person telling feels, but it’s important to remember that the person receiving the advice doesn’t necessarily know what to say, either. I’ve struggled with mental illnesses for as long as I can remember, but it took me a long time to apply what resources were helpful for me to those I love. I definitely learnt some new stuff from this blog post, too!

    One of my favourite pieces of advice in this post was where you recommended to leave advice to seek professional help to the end of a conversation. Like you said, it often comes from a good place, but it can leave people feeling like you’re trying to palm the blame or aren’t really interested in helping them, even if that isn’t your intention.

    Rebekah Gillian | https://rebekahgillian.co.uk/

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:12 am

      Thank you, Rebekah!

      I really felt it was important to share both sides, as I’ve found myself in both situations. Though I understand the importance of encouraging people to talk about their struggles, I think it’s just as important to consider those hearing the news. I know I said some things which must have been hard to hear.

  • Alice 6th February 2019 at 9:53 pm

    This is such a wonderful post, Ruth. Despite having suffered with it for as long as I can remember, I still find it so incredibly difficult to admit when things are getting bad again. You are really brilliant for being so open about this and I’m sure one, if not many people are going to be so thankful for this post!
    Alice Xx

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:13 am

      Thank you so much, Alice! It can be so hard to admit, and I think it’s often hardest to accept it ourselves. That’s always my first step before I can tell anyone else, and sometimes it’s the biggest hurdle.

  • Zoë 7th February 2019 at 6:17 pm

    This is such a beautiful post Ruth. Its so so important to talk to someone about your mental health. Im lucky to have a boyfriend who cares very much about mental health, we both struggle, but we are both completely honest about it. We tell each other anything and everything, and it helps us both dramatically. Lovely post! xx

    http://zoe-ware.com

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:14 am

      Thank you, Zoe! I’m really glad you have someone in your life who you are comfortable talking to about this, and the same for your boyfriend, too. It makes a big difference to the journey overall!

  • Macey 8th February 2019 at 12:23 am

    I love all of this. It’s so unfortunate that people are still saying “get over it,” “just get out of bed,” and things of that nature in 2019. I genuinely have such an interest in psychology, that I’ve chosen to take another course on it this semester. I’m already learning so much about mental health & mental illnesses, and I want to be as sensitive to those experiencing such things because a lot of the time, people just don’t feel supported. You raise some great points and bring awareness to how we can better help those in our lives that are experiencing some form of mental illness. Amazing post Ruth xx

    • ruthinrevolt 11th February 2019 at 10:15 am

      It’s hard to believe some of the responses people come out with at times! It’s so wonderful that you are learning more about psychology, especially as it helps you to support people who are struggling. The world needs more people like you!

  • Kim 12th February 2019 at 9:25 pm

    This was such a great post Ruth! I’m happy you included both perspectives and I honestly do think if someone asked me twice how I’m feeling, that ‘fine wouldn’t be my second answer.

    • ruthinrevolt 13th February 2019 at 10:28 am

      Thank you, Kim! I’m definitely more likely to open up a little if someone asks me again as well!

  • Sarah 13th February 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Wonderfully said. I need to show my parents the first half of this post because they are not accepting of my mental health. They tend to like to turn things around and always make things about themselves – or worse, put all the blame on me. I found that writing things down and sharing my struggles with people that way worked better than saying them out loud, especially at the beginning, but now I can (selectively) talk about it out loud with some of them.

    • ruthinrevolt 15th February 2019 at 9:48 am

      I’m sorry to hear your parents aren’t understanding, and it’s particularly sad that they try to put the blame on you. I hope they change their attitudes and can provide you with better support. I am glad to hear you’ve found a way to express yourself that works for you, though, and that you’re making progress with talking about it. It’s a big step, and you should be proud of yourself.

    Leave a Reply

    About Me

    About Me

    After being diagnosed with depression and anxiety then receiving treatment, I wanted to turn my situation into something constructive. So, with a lifelong passion for writing and a renewed sense of determination, I took a step out of my comfort zone and began putting all my efforts into creating a positive space online.

    I talk openly about mental health and also share blogging/social media tips to help others on their journey.

    Thanks for visiting! Follow me on social media or subscribe to my mailing list if you want to keep in touch!

    Follow Me

    Sign Up To My Mailing List

    Sign up to receive a monthly newsletter so you never miss a thing!

    Categories

    ×