It’s Good to Talk
Time to Talk – Easy ways to start a conversation about mental health
Time to Talk day is an annual day that focuses on taking the stigma out of mental health and enabling those conversations about when we are struggling in our lives to take place.
Here are some steps that you can take in striking out that conversation when you’ve noticed that one of your friends or colleagues seems preoccupied, as if there are other things going on for them, and they don’t seem their usual selves.
Allow it to be natural
It doesn’t need to be forced in any way. Sometimes, it can be easier to have a talk about how we feel, and how we are coping in life and situations around us, when we’re doing other things.
For example, you could be out on a walk with your friend or catching up over a cuppa in your living room, or in a cafe, or any kind of neutral setting where it’s just the two of you and there’s no pressure.
By not having the conversation staged in any way, it takes the pressure off the person that you’re talking to. After all, you’re reaching out to offer support so you doing that to come across as awkward.
Ask about it twice
It doesn’t mean that you need to ask twice in quick succession – that will probably come across as a bit weird.
What you can do is ask on two occasions during a conversation. By asking a second time it helps to highlight that you have a genuine concern for their welfare and happiness, and that you’re not just being polite or require a token “Alright”, or “I’m good, thanks”, or some other similar response.
Asking a second time is good to show that you’re not just going through the motions.
Share how things are for you
It can often be helpful to share how life has been for you – that you get stressed out and down sometimes. It could be that you mention something that’s concerning you at the moment and using that as a segue for them to share how things are for them.
If they do begin to share how things are for them at the moment, the thing to avoid doing is attempting to fix the situation. For example, if you get the urge to say, “You know what you should do…”, then that’s not going to account for the details that they haven’t mentioned and probably won’t be that helpful to them because of that.
Don’t let mental health problems be the elephant in the room
If you know someone’s been having a hard time, check in with them to see how they’re really doing. You don’t need to bring out details about specific situations that you may be aware of. You can simply ask along the lines of, “Is everything alright?… I’m here if you need to talk about anything.” This takes the pressure off them so they know they don’t have to confront everything right at this moment. It leave the door open for them for when they feel ready.
Remember that anything they decide to share is not to be used as a source of gossip and should be held confidentially. They can let you know if there are specific things that they would like you to do or support them in doing.
You can reach out remotely if you need to
When you pose the question it doesn’t have to be done face-to-face in the same physical space. Being in the same space will make some things easier – for example, you will be able to see the body language for the whole body and that can give you additional information.
If they are further away, or there are other reasons why you can’t meet up face-to-face, you can use other means to reach out to them. For example you could:
- Phone them
- Text them
- Email them
- Direct message (DM) them through social media
- Do a video call when there’s no pressure for them to turn their camera on
You can also send them gifts to help lighten their spirit.
I’ve asked them, now what do I do?
Actually getting into the conversation can feel a bit awkward if you’ve not done it before. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is excellent training. It takes you through a series of different scenarios and what to do. Much like physical First Aid, it shows you the basics and encourages you to not step beyond your capabilities. It enables you to support the person up until the point where you can handover to a qualified person to help them.
Mental Health First Aid introduces a conversation structure to follow called ALGEE (like algae).
These steps are:
A – Assess for risk of suicide or harm
L – Listen non-judgementally
G – Give reassurance and information
E – Encourage appropriate professional help
E – Encourage self-help and other support strategies
On a personal level I admit that I struggled with the ‘E’ parts of ALGEE because I couldn’t remember what I was meant to be encouraging.
I came up with my own sequence of letters to help me remember the steps: ALIAS.
I picked ‘alias’ because the person who appears to need some mental health support are not presenting as they usually do in how they behave.
A – Assess:
Ask if everything is ok
Assess the situation in terms of their personal safety and for your personal safety
L – Listen:
Listen without judgement
I – Inform:
Inform the person to normalise their experience and to reassure them
A – Ask:
Ask about professional help (an invitation to signpost them)
S – Support:
Help the person to identify and acknowledge their support network
Support them in what they want to do to improve the situation
Discuss any self-help strategies that may be helpful to them
Use which ever sequence makes the most sense to you.
If you would like to find out more, the Mental Health First Aid training comes highly recommended.
Article written by Emma Ross.
Emma is a CCHA tenant. She has worked as a counsellor for Mind for 7 years, and has also worked in GP surgeries for the Cardiff & Vale NHS in Ely and on an Employee Assistance Program. You can find her on social media @WorkSmartLiveHappy
Disclaimer: All opinions and thoughts are solely the author’s, and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.