Talking about mental health to others

In a world where our social media feeds overflow with carefully curated content, presented to us by those who seem to have perfect lives, the realities of mental health often remain hidden and suppressed. This makes it hard for us to not only understand who’s struggling, but also how to even approach these delicate conversations offline. We fear saying the wrong thing, offering inadequate support, or potentially making matters worse. To overcome these barriers, here are some helpful tips on how to create a safe, empathetic, and supportive environment for these conversations, so you can be there for your loved ones when they need it most.

Be Fully Present

When someone is opening up about their mental health, the most valuable gift you can offer is your undivided attention. Put that smartphone away, resist the urge to check your messages, and show them they have your complete focus. Make eye contact; it’s a simple yet powerful way to communicate that you’re engaged in their words. Nod along as they speak; this non-verbal cue tells them you’re actively listening, absorbing every word they say.

Validate Their Emotions

When emotions run high, your initial instinct might be to offer immediate solutions, but often what’s most needed at the outset is emotional validation. Recognize their feelings without feeling compelled to solve everything right away. Let them know that you acknowledge their distress and that their emotions are entirely valid. Your presence and understanding can be remarkably comforting.

Avoid Minimizing Their Struggles

When you find yourself in a conversation with someone sharing their mental health challenges, it’s crucial to approach the situation with care. While the instinct to provide perspective might be strong, it’s essential to refrain from downplaying their emotions. Remember that each person’s experience is unique, and what may appear trivial to you could be profoundly distressing for them. Instead, extend a compassionate presence, listen attentively, and acknowledge their emotions without judgment.

Empathize with Shared Experiences

If you’ve personally faced similar mental health hurdles, opening up about your own journey can establish a meaningful bond and serve as a positive example for dealing with wellness challenges. When you share your experiences, emphasize the similarities between your situation and theirs, all while discussing healthy coping strategies. Remember, it’s essential to avoid overshadowing their emotions or making the conversation about your own story. The goal is to demonstrate empathy and solidarity, rather than shifting the attention to your personal experiences.

Be Patient

Engaging in discussions about mental health can be emotionally taxing for both parties. These conversations often don’t lead to immediate solutions or relief. Healing takes time, and it’s essential to be patient throughout the process. Understand that they might need multiple conversations or ongoing support. Avoid rushing them or pressuring them to “get better” quickly. Your patience and willingness to be there for them can be a vital source of comfort and stability during their journey toward improved mental well-being.

You can also use these tips as a guideline on how to teach others about mental health conversations. The more we destigmatize mental health talk, the more open we can be with each other. Remember, not everyone may need your help, but being able to support others and show others how to approach these conversations can make a difference for all of us. You got this.

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    William Yuk