I’m writing this post because to tomorrow is Time to Talk Day and while I think it’s a great way to raise awareness about mental health issues, we also need to acknowledge that talking can be difficult. Some of the comments I have read on social media point out that trying to talk is not always a positive experience. It’s sad and infuriating, but true. With this in mind, here are my tips for preparing to talk about mental health…
1. Decide on your aims before you start the conversation.
What do you hope to get out of talking? Help and support from a particular person? More understanding in general?
What do you want to talk about? There are many topics within the broad subject of mental health. Picking one or two will help you steer the conversation.
Often, conversations will go in a different direction to what you anticipated, but having a clear set of aims and objectives in your mind will help you to start talking. It’s also helpful to use your aims as focal points, so you can return to them if the conversation starts turning in a direction you find uncomfortable.
Deciding on your aims needn’t be complicated: you can stick to one simple aim.
Here are some examples:
• To let my friend know I struggle with anxiety
• To tell my colleagues that having time off for depression doesn’t mean I’m lazy
• To ask my mum to help me get counselling
2. Prepare for unexpected outcomes — positive and negative.
Some people may not respond to your conversation in the way you would like. There are loads of reasons for this: some people refuse to acknowledge mental illness out of fear or ignorance, some avoid talking about mental health because they have their own issues and are uncomfortable discussing them and other people will have a million other reasons.
The best way you can prepare for the unexpected is to try not to take anyone’s response personally. If someone refuses to listen, it says more about them than it does about you.
I know that’s easier said than done, but try to decide on an action plan in advance. How will you react if the person says something offensive? Or if they just aren’t interested? Put your needs first — it’s fine to walk away.
Time to Talk Day isn’t about being a martyr; it’s about starting the conversation. It’s not your fault if others don’t want to participate and you don’t need to “fight for the cause” by trying to extend the conversation when you might as well be talking to a brick wall.
It also helps to prepare for positive responses. I’m always delighted when my openness persuades other people to talk about their mental health issues, but it can be challenging when you don’t know what to say. As a minimum, tell people to go to their local GP if they have any concerns. This is the best initial course of action overall, so try not to put them off by sharing any negative experiences about seeking help.
It can also be helpful to point people in the direction of some good websites if they want to more information or support. Here are a few of my top recommendations:
3. Feel proud of yourself.
Speaking out is hard. It’s brave. Starting a conversation about mental health is an achievement — even if it doesn’t turn out how you wanted.
You might feel discouraged by a negative experience, but please keep on trying. The negative experiences are symptoms of why we need to talk and keep talking: there is still a lot of stigma, ignorance and apathy in the world.
If your experience is positive, please share it with others. It can be a flickering light in the darkness to people who have lost hope and think have nobody to talk to.
Also remember that there are plenty of ways to “talk” so you can join in even if you feel uncomfortable talking in person. Blogs and social media are a great way to start “talking”.
Keep starting conversations and we will break down the stigma — one talk at a time. Good luck!