Today is World Mental Health Day! A day which encourages us to talk about mental health openly without judgement. A day which looks to raise awareness of mental health issues. It is never easy to open up about mental health because there is still a huge amount of stigma attached to it.
Maybe you keep being told that it is good to talk about mental health, that open discussions are important in reducing stigma attached to mental illness. But where do you start? Perhaps you’re worried that people will not be understanding, will be judgmental, will stop being friends with you. These are all perfectly valid feelings and concerns. I remember being terrified when I was first asked about my mental illness. It still shakes me when people ask questions or when a conversation about mental health starts. Here are some things which helped me start to talk:
- The internet. Read blogs and watch youtube videos about mental health, specifically issues that affect you. See how others approach the conversation.
- Do not expect magic advice. When you are desperate for help and talk to someone, you really want to hear something that will make everything feel better. However, this is unlikely to happen. Set realistic expectations of talking.
- Think about why you want to talk about things. Is it because you need help? Do you want your friends to be more understanding? Tell the person why you are opening up to them.
- If it is really hard for you to talk face to face, message someone. Start the discussion that way. This will allow you more time to think about what you want to say.
- Do not rush yourself. Only talk about things when you feel ready. It is okay not to want to open up to the world about every little detail.
Now for the other side. I understand that sometimes it is difficult to know what to say if someone starts talking about mental health issues but believe me, it is harder to talk about it. If someone is talking about their mental health:
- Do not interrupt them.
- Do not try and tell them about their condition, they know better than you.
- Remember that mental illness can effect anyone, never ask what they have to be sad about.
- Listen. Actually listen to what they are saying. Do not dismiss it. It is not easy to talk about things like this. The least you can do is hear what the person has to say.
- Ask questions if you do not understand something. Never make assumptions.
- Offer reassurance and advice. But, don’t be surprised if they have already tried your suggestion and it did not work. Side note: if I get told to try yoga to deal with depression one more time, I will scream.
- Do not be judgmental. Mental illness can effect anyone. Nobody asks to feel the way that they do. Judgement is damaging and dangerous.
A conversation about mental health is not an easy one to have and that’s okay, it is still an important one. So if you can open up about it, do. It might give someone else the confidence to do the same. If someone is talking to you about their mental health, never underestimate how difficult it might be for them.