We all appreciate the value of talking openly and honestly about mental health. It can reduce mental health stigma for everyone and make it easier for our loved ones to open up when they are struggling.
But the important question is: How do we start the conversation? How do we discuss mental health in the most effective and sensitive way?
While different approaches may suit different people, here are some general tips for starting a mental health conversation:
- Choose your moment
The first time you want to start talking, it can feel daunting – and scary to tackle. But, it’s important to take the leap and get people to talk open and honestly about how they feel. After talking about mental health a few times it will become second nature and help reduce the stigma around it. Over time, it will be easier for someone to open up to you, especially if they know you’ll listen without judgement and be supportive.
- Location and Time
Before talking to someone about your own mental health or theirs, make sure it is at a good time and place. This means a time where you’re not in a rush, and somewhere you have privacy. It may be best to talk during one of your usual activities. Do you and your mate meet every Sunday to play football? Do you meet your sister for coffee regularly? Begin there. Talking in a familiar territory can help the conversation feel more natural, even if it is not something you usually discuss.
- Ask twice
If you’re concerned about someone’s mental health, or are just checking-in generally, it is important to ask how they’re doing twice. When someone asks us how we are, it is a natural habit for most of us to reply on autopilot, with a cheery, “I’m ok, you?” As this is our default reaction, it is important to ask again, so the person being asked knows you really want to know how they are doing, and you’re not enquiring out of polite interest.
- Really listen
Be aware of your body language. Keep your arms and legs uncrossed and face them. Maintain a healthy amount of eye contact and really listen to the words they say. Don’t interrupt or interject as soon as there is a pause in speech. Once they have shared, paraphrase what they have said back to them to make sure you have understood. If they correct you, readjust your summary until they agree.
- There is no “right” thing to say
Many people worry about saying the wrong thing when someone tells them they are struggling. Remember, the main thing is that you are there to listen. Validate their feelings; don’t try to minimise their struggles, tell them you know how they feel, or give unsolicited advice. Instead, tell them you can’t imagine how difficult their situation must be, and you’re proud of them for facing it so bravely. Tell them you are there for them if they want to vent. Tell them you care about them.
- Know when to seek additional support
Whilst talking is invaluable, there is only so much we can do as a friend or loved one. Importantly, you’re not there to feel responsible for someone else’s problems. If they are experiencing mental health concerns that interfere with their daily functioning, encourage them to see their GP or reach out to a mental health service or charity, such as us. If you’re not sure if they need professional support, it’s always better to be safe. Follow this link to find out more about our 1-2-1 and group support available for adults and young people in Dorset.
- Remember to safeguard
If you’re not sure your loved one can keep themselves safe, you must treat it as an emergency and take appropriate action immediately, such as take them to A&E or phone for an ambulance. You could also call your local crisis team if you have their number.
- Keep yourself safe
It can be difficult to listen to people’s trauma without taking some of it on ourselves. Look after yourself, practise self-care and talk to someone if you also need support for what you’ve seen or heard.
If someone’s life is at risk or you do not feel like you can keep someone else safe, please call 999 or take them to your nearest A&E. Don’t leave them, keep them safe.
A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. You are not wasting anyone’s time.
If someone you know is struggling to cope and they are approaching a crisis point, they can access 24/7 local help and advice over the phone. There is also face-to-face support available in the evenings:
- Connection –
Dorset’s 24/7 mental health helpline (0800 652 0190 or NHS 111) can provide direct help or signpost them to a range of other services. If someone requires urgent clinical help, staff can arrange an assessment within four hours.
- The Retreat –
A drop-in support service in Bournemouth and Dorchester, open 30pm-midnight every day. It provides a safe space where people can talk through their problems with mental health workers or peer specialists. See here for more information.The Retreat also offers virtual drop-ins for people from anywhere in Dorset. The service is available from 4:30pm – 11:30pm 7 days a week. Click here to access support during opening hours.
- Community Front Rooms –
A support service for face-to-face drop-ins, open Thursday-Sunday from 3.15pm to 10.45pm. Community Front Rooms are available in Wareham, Weymouth, Bridport and Shaftesbury.
Make sure your loved ones or friends note the FREE numbers below. They can use them to talk to a trained volunteer about anything that is troubling them, no matter how difficult:
- Samaritans – 24/7 listening helpline: Call 116 123
- SHOUT – 24/7 Crisis text service: Text “SHOUT” to 85258.
Visit our help and support pages for resources, signposting, and information about our individual and group mental health services.
Huge thanks to our blog writer, Nick Rowe – with valuable input from our Adult Services too. Nick is the Project Manager for the Dorset Community Mental Health Alliance that brings voluntary, statutory and business members together to create a mentally healthy Dorset.