How to Talk About Mental Health Illness
Today’s final post for “Mental Health Awareness Week” will have no relation to yoga at all, but simply a post to encourage you to speak about the state of your mental health and other’s. If you know someone who suffers from a mental health illness, it is important to know how to talk to that person in a way that is supportive and lets that person know you are there for them. The stigma associated with a lot of these illnesses means that there is a large majority of people who suffer in silence, unsure who to speak to or worried about being a burden on their loved ones.
There is no simple way to tell if a person is suffering from mental illness, and quite frankly sometimes it is none of your business. If you are worried about someone it can be difficult to know what to do, but once you start to notice the signs, it is important to have a conversation with them sooner, rather than later.
So here are some tips on how to get that conversation started:
1) Make time to speak to them with no distractions.
It is important that the person knows they have your full undivided attention and you are not clock watching whilst waiting for them to finish talking. This should be in a completely open and non-judgmental space where they feel safe enough to talk.
2) Let them speak.
Do not try and force them to speak about something they are not ready to talk about. Let them say as much or as little as they would like to, and at their own pace. This is a difficult subject after all, so forcing them to speak about more than they are ready to will lead to them shutting down and possibly never wanting to speak about it again.
3) Do not assume to know what they are feeling or diagnose them
Mental health problems affect everyone in a myriad of different ways, so there is no way you could fully understand what they are feeling. This conversation is also about them, not you. So do not try to relate what they are going through to however you think you might have felt one time. In addition, you are most likely not a trained therapist or specialist, so please try not to diagnose them. If you think they may be suffering from depression or anything else, you can encourage them to see a trained professional.
4) Ask open ended questions
This might seem obvious but ask open ended questions that allow them to expand on their answers more. Instead of saying “you seem like you’re down today”, try saying “how are you feeling?”. It is a less direct question and therefore changes the entire tone of the conversation.
5) Actively listen to what they are telling you
It is one thing to say you are listening to them while they talk, it is another to practice active listening. Repeat back what they have said to you, show that you are understanding what they say, and whilst you may not agree with what they are saying, tell them you also know their feelings are valid.
6) Address the subject of well-being
Ask if they are exercising, reading and have a healthy diet. Whilst these are not the key factors for solving mental health illnesses, they do have an impact on the mind and body. Talk about the different ways they could de-stress and see if there is anything you can do to help them with this.
7) Ask if you can help them with seeking professional help
It is possible that they already have a trusted therapist they see, or are already on prescribed medication to help; but if that isn’t the case, ask if you can help them find the right help they need. Ask if they would like you to go to a GP with them or sit with them while they talk to their family. Try to do this in a gentle and supportive way but be wary about trying to take control of the situation – this is still all about the person in question, not about you.
8) Know your own limits
Like previously mentioned, you are probably not a trained professional. So if you feel like the situation is more dire than you initially thought, and the person may be in immediate danger, seek further assistance straight away.
9) Be there for them
At the end of the conversation, make sure you remind them that you are always there for them if they want to talk again. Keep checking in with them and remind them that they are not a burden to you.
10) Learn more about their illness
Once you have had the first conversation with them and have a better understanding of what they are going through, learn more about the illness itself. This way you can learn how to provide better support for them and keep an eye out for indicators of progression or regression.
These conversations are never easy but are vital for making sure a person is not suffering alone and feeling totally isolated. More and more TV shows are starting to highlight the point of view of those suffering from mental illnesses. However, there are still so many that do not get enough attention and awareness raised for it. Keep an eye out for your family, friends and co-workers as well as taking time to assess your own mental health too.
For more information on how to support someone else with a mental health problem, visit the below:
Stay happy, stay safe and stay in touch with your emotions!