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Time to Talk

February 6, 2020

Mental health problems affect one in four of us. More people today are talking openly about their experiences of anxiety and depression than a few years ago, and this has had a really positive impact – and not only on the individual doing the talking. It helps others to see they’re not alone, and has also motivated more people to seek treatment.

Led by mental health charity Mind, the annual Time to Talk Day (Thursday 6 February 2020) was created to encourage everyone to talk more about mental health – and also to listen. If you think someone you know might be struggling, by reaching out you can help them to recognise and figure out what’s going on, and to understand that there’s a solution.

It’s often difficult to broach the topic, however, or to know what will really help. If a colleague returns to work after breaking their ankle, it’s easy to know what to say. If they’ve been off with stress, it’s harder to find the right words. You might worry about upsetting them, or bringing up something they’d rather forget.

In this scenario, the best approach is probably to say hello, and ask how they’re doing. They can then answer broadly if they want to, or if they’re pleased you’ve asked they can go into a bit more detail. This approach also works well if you want to encourage a friend, family member or colleague to open up about how they’re feeling. Of course, everyone’s different, so you’ll want to adapt your approach to the individual.

Sometimes people will bring up the subject themselves, and make it clear they would appreciate your input and ideas. In this situation, you can be more direct. For instance, if it’s winter time and a neighbour tells you she’s been feeling down and can’t face going out, you could suggest that she might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Some people might be reluctant to talk about feelings or emotions, or believe they should ‘just get on with it’. Others may simply not have realised they have a problem, or assume it’s due to being a ‘worrier’, or an inevitable part of getting older for example.

These individuals will probably respond best to a more gentle and subtle approach. If you suspect your dad is feeling depressed, for instance, asking open questions such as “You’ve said you feel like this…have you any idea what might be going on?” could help him to open up gradually and arrive at the conclusion himself.

Hearing someone say “I’ve had that too!” can make all the difference to a person who’s struggling with their mental health. If you’ve experienced something similar to the person you’re talking to, and it’s appropriate to do so, you could share your own experiences. It’s also important to let the person know that their problem is treatable, and that there are solutions which will help them to manage it and feel better.

Not everyone will be ready to talk, or to seek treatment. You can still offer support by letting them know you’re there, and checking in every now and then to see if they’re OK.

Finally, don’t forget to look after yourself! Conversations about mental health can be hard on the listener, as well as the person doing the talking. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to come up with answers.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is very effective for treating a range of different mental health problems. Online CBT could be a good option if someone is reluctant to go to their GP, as therapy through typing removes much of the pressures of having a conversation face to face. Find out more about the other benefits of typing in therapy or what to expect during online CBT.

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