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Time to Talk Day 2020 is taking place on Thursday 6 February. Choose to talk about mental health and help change lives. It’s that simple: just make an effort to talk about it with someone. Your health, their health, someone else’s health: just talk.
Not so easy? Need a little help in knowing how to talk about this subject? Open up our help guide for some tips. You might first like to read the rest of this article to understand more about what mental health actually is.
Tips on having a conversation on mental health
Treating mental health the same as physical health will help us all to know when we need to seek help, and make us easier to talk to for someone in pain, whatever the cause of that pain.
Having a conversation about health in a safe and caring way
If you think someone might need some help, be kind and talk to them. Sometimes people don’t realise they might need help, particularly if their health has deteriorated slowly. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else is aware, and cares, is enough.
- Approach the conversation in a casual and informal manner and tone.
- Make sure you are having the conversation in a quiet place, free from interruptions and where you cannot be overheard. The person needs to feel comfortable to talk.
- Start off with something like “I just want to check in with you and see how you are doing? I have noticed a change in you in the last couple of weeks in that you don’t seem to be quite yourself.”
- Some advise to ask if a person is OK. I think it is best not to: we are all used to answering such a question with a cheery ‘sure, I’m OK’ regardless of what’s going on inside. You might still get such a response but that might just be an initial response, so hang around unobtrusively in case they realise they do want to talk.
- Rather, show concern and then be the listener. Listen without interruption or judgement.
- Remember it’s not your role to fix the problem. You probably can’t anyway and any attempt to do so will be like offering to set someone’s broken bone for them: scary for both of you!
- However, it is important that you guide them towards a solution or further assistance. Gently encourage action to link the person in with some help such as a manager, trusted family member, General Practitioner or Counsellor.
- After the chat, check in with them again. Keep up that connection and help them think about the things they find joy in. An open ear can be life changing and lets them know you’re there for them, going forward.
The conversations that really change lives are the ones where the person struggling feels they’re not being judged and know they’re not alone with their burden — whatever that may be.
Just listening and allowing that person to talk is an amazing boost. Don’t worry about ‘fixing’ them, you may not have the answers, but just be a human being with another human being.
When you can’t handle someone else’s problems
It may be that you are having your own issues at the moment. Perhaps the idea of talking to someone else about their issues sounds unbearable.
Much of this article is geared towards encouraging and helping people be somebody you can talk to. But let’s talk about you: because you are the most important person in your life, whether it feels that way or not.
You need to talk to someone. Yes, that is a statement, but it is not a command. It’s up to you to care about your own health but ask yourself this:
If you keep on as you are, without external assistance, will your health improve?
If the answer is ‘probably not’ then you need to let someone else give you help. It doesn’t matter whether you have a cold that is getting out of control, or a spell of sadness that just isn’t going away, if you can’t fix it yourself, please let somebody else have a chance to do so, before it keeps getting worse.
Even if you think you can fix it yourself, make sure you do (it isn’t going away by itself, is it) and be willing to let those around you know what your problems are, and what you are doing to sort them out. That way, they can keep an eye on you, without worrying about it.
Now, back to their problems for a moment.
It can help them to know that they aren’t unique, nor special, in having a health problem. Try to listen, and try to understand if they can’t listen to you. But by all means share some of what you are going through. And if your own troubles prevent you being able to be a good listener just be honest about that: “I’m sorry you are having problems and complimented that you feel able to talk to me about them but I’m going through my own issues right now, so I’m not the best person for you to be talking to.”
It’s not complex
We all have health. Physical health, mental health, often a mixture of both. Yes, often both — have you ever felt really low while having the ‘flu or a bad back? Physical health often affects mental health and poor mental health often harms our physical health, too.
Sometimes we have good health, sometimes not so good.
Sometimes, we are hurt in a way that we can sort out. We can fix a small cut, or worry over passing an exam, or a graze, or feeling a bit low. Sometimes, the hurt is more serious and we are hurt in a way that we need some help.
Most of us can’t fix our own broken bone, or magically inoculate ourselves from rubella. These are clinical matters, but we can still talk about them to people around us.
Most of us can’t fix our own severe depression or chronic anxiety. These are clinical matters we need some help with, but we can still talk about them to people around us.
How common is mental health?
No, that’s the wrong question still. If you don’t find anything wrong with it, let me transform the question a little bit:
How common is physical health?
Now do you see it? Everybody has physical health. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Everybody has mental health. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good.
And don’t forget: while sometimes we can fix a health problem by ourselves, sometimes we can’t. And sometimes it just helps to know that we can talk to someone about our back-ache, or our depression. Sometimes, as a listener, we can know enough to suggest they get their health problem checked out by a professional.
How common is poor mental health?
According to the World Health Organisation — unfortunately, not the most trustworthy of sources — around a quarter of us will have some kind of mental health issue in our lives.
A more reliable 2016 study by Daniel Vigo et al⇩1Lancet Psychiatry 2016; 3: 171-78 points out that of the top twenty causes of global ‘burden of disease’, five of them are a mental illness (2013 data):
- 2nd Major depression (mood disorder)
- 7th Anxiety disorders (inability to control worries)
- 11th Schizophrenia (inability to interpret reality abnormally)
- 16th Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)
- 17th Bipolar disorder (wild mood swings; mania to depression)
Note that major depression is the second problem in the world.
Mental health problems affect 10–20% of children and adolescents worldwide. Despite their relevance as a leading cause of health-related disability in this age group and their longlasting effects throughout life, the mental health needs of children and adolescents are neglected, especially in low-income and middle-income countries.Global Mental Health 2
The forms that mental health illness takes
This is where even the medical profession gets itself in a twist over what is the difference between physical health and mental health. It kind-of proves my point, that there is no clear difference. In the maybe-this or maybe-that categories are included dementia, epilepsy, tension-type headache, migraine, chronic pain syndrome, and self-harm.
Businesses have both a responsibility towards their staff, who spend a considerable part of their lives influenced by what goes on in employment, and a self-interest motivation to ensure that everyone working for them is fully functional.
Here is how one business leader sees the issue:
Almost every single business exists in a competitive and challenging market. We live in a globalised world of tech innovation, shifting consumer behaviour and heightened competition, where the opportunity for success is huge – and so is the pressure, internally, to meet that potential.
But the work we create is just as important as the environment in which we work. Events such as February’s Time to Talk Day draw attention to this need, encouraging everyone to be more open about mental health. Organisations need to embrace such openness, creativity and (importantly) wellbeing. These are pillars of a successful business, and are interdependent.MediaCom CEO Josh Krichefski
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