I Just Called to Say I’m Listening: How to Start the Conversation about Mental Health

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Michelle Robinson Volunteer Writer

Mental health has always been a difficult subject to talk about. The difficulties lie in the stigma surrounding it, the lack of understanding around mental health generally and if you suffer from a mental health problem, feeling ashamed about it.

But people shouldn’t be afraid to talk about mental health. We are getting better at talking about it; there are numerous online resources, charity campaigns and social media discussions about the wider issues, and this is encouraging people to talk about mental health, when they wouldn’t have been inclined to before.

But there’s still more to do. The most challenging thing about mental illness is knowing how to get the issues out there. Here are some ways that you can start the conversation about mental health:

Talk and listen
You don’t need a PhD in psychology to talk to a friend, family member or colleague who is going through a tough time. You just need to be there; to talk to and to listen. People with mental ill health often have a hard time even getting to the point where they can tell someone that they’re ill. Just having someone there who can listen without judgment can make all the difference. You can help them realise that they aren’t alone and that someone cares. When they’re at that low point, that might be all they need to hear.

Educate yourself
Learning about different mental health conditions might make you feel more confident about talking to someone about their problems. Organisations such as Rethink mental illness and Mind have great guides you can download which cover every mental health condition, the symptoms and how they are usually treated.

Distinguish the myths from the facts
There are a lot of myths around mental health which do nothing except keep the stigma going. By learning the facts, you can understand the issues around mental health better and the challenges that people with mental illness face.

Some common myths include;
“People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable”
Fact: People who have a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence and harm.
“People with mental health issues aren’t able to work”
Fact: We all probably work with someone who has a mental health problem.
“Mental illnesses aren’t that common”
Fact: One in four people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime.

How you can start the conversation
Here are some ways that you can start a conversation about how someone is feeling:
• Go out for a walk with someone and ask them how they are
• Invite someone round for a cup of tea and a chat
• Text a friend and ask them how they are
• Make a point of calling someone you haven’t talked to in a while to see how they are
• Tell someone how you’re feeling; if you’re not ‘fine’, say so!

You aren’t a doctor or an expert, but you don’t need to be, you just need to be there and to care for someone at a time when they might be feeling very alone. They might tell you they want to be alone, but just make them aware that you’re there. It can make the difference between a good day and a bad day.

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