Talking about mental health
The subject of mental health is a rather sensitive one. Many people tend to avoid the topic for several reasons. Things like judgement, doubt, fear and stigma ultimately keep many people from reaching out and seeking treatment. Still, educating yourself on mental health provides insight on what the other person might be experiencing and therefore gives you a better understanding.
Understanding the topic will make it easier to approach a friend or loved one struggling with mental health issues. Below are eight tips on talking about mental health and how to approach the situation.
Give them your time without distractions.
When talking to a friend or a loved one about mental health, it is essential to provide a non-judgmental atmosphere without any distractions.
Let them open up to you instead of forcing them.
The best approach is to let them lead the discussion. Whatever you do or say, don't force the conversation. Anyone struggling with mental health will open up naturally, so try not to jump to conclusions or assumptions.
Stick to open-ended questions
Instead of asking questions more suited to a psychiatrist such as "Tell me how you are feeling today?" Try and keep the conversation neutral. Remember, you're their support structure so lend an ear and listen to what they've got to say.
Talk about their well-being.
Talk about ways of practising self-care and healthy ways of de-stressing. Try encouraging them to follow a healthy diet and get enough exercise. A healthy lifestyle will undoubtedly aid in helping them feel better.
Listen intently to what they have to say
Listen to comprehend, not to reply. Ensure that you understand what your loved one is saying, by repeating what they said. You don't have to agree with what is said, but by letting them open up to you, shows to them that you genuinely care.
Encourage them to seek treatment.
Allow them to make their own decision without taking away their control over the situation. Offer to accompany them to a doctor's appointment or encourage them to speak to someone else that they trust. You can also point them in the right direction and provide them with information on how to reach out.
Take action before it's too late.
If you believe that a friend or a loved one is in immediate danger, encourage them to seek help and take action. If a person is not ready to take action, you cannot force them too. An excellent place to start is by contacting a medical professional that specializes in mental health disorders.
How do I know when to get help for myself or a loved one?
Suppose you are experiencing signs and symptoms of mental health disorders. In that case, the first step to recovery is to make an appointment with your primary health care provider or mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don't improve on their own, nor do they go away. If left untreated, mental disorders may worsen over-time, ultimately effecting your quality of life.
Suppose you see a loved one struggling with a mental health disorder. In that case, we suggest having an open discussion about your concerns. But do so in a supportive manner, instead of forcing them to seek help. The first step to improving one's mental health comes from within. Your loved one must be willing to take the first step. You can help your loved one with simple steps such as introducing them to a qualified mental health care practitioner or accompanying them on their first appointment. These small gestures will show your unwavering support.
What to say and what not to say
Studies have shown that mental disorders affect every one in three adults in South Africa, during some point in their lives. If you come across someone with mental health in your family or circle of friends and you are unsure of how to approach them, these tips might help.
Here are some suggestions on how to approach someone living with a mental health disorder:
- Speak to them in a neutral environment where they feel comfortable enough to have the conversation
- Ease into the mental health conversation, gradually.
- Be sure to keep your tone, relaxed and judgement-free
- Listen to them intently, be responsive and respectful of their boundaries
- Show them the respect they deserve and do so with compassion
Below are some things to avoid saying when approaching mental health:
- "Just change your attitude and lighten up."
- "Yes, we are all a little bit off the wall every once in a while."
- "You have the same illness as my….."
- "Stop being negative; things will change."
- "Everyone feels this way at some point or another"
Below are some things to avoid doing when approaching mental health:
- Never blame them for their condition
- Never raise your voice when talking about sensitive mental health subjects
- Whatever you do, never make jokes about their condition
- Avoid patronizing them or being condescending towards them
- Stop assuming things about their condition