There has truly never been a better time to talk about mental health. From global stressors, all the way down to smaller issues in our lives, taking care of our mental health has never been more important. Now is the time to be communicating with our friends and family about our mental health if we don’t already. Although these conversations can be difficult to initiate, it is crucial that we learn how to start a conversation about mental health with others. Together we’ll explore some healthy conversation tips to keep in mind.
Removing the Taboo
Talking about our physical health may seem easier and more natural, especially since it’s a more common conversation topic in our culture and society. It can feel far more acceptable to check in with our friends and family about a physical diagnosis, how they are recovering from surgery, or any other illnesses. However, we may not be as comfortable checking in with our loved ones about their mental health or sharing about our own mental health. Begin by realizing mental health is just as important as physical health, and that we all struggle with emotional issues throughout our lives. This means we all go through similar struggles, and it’s perfectly normal to feel mentally unhealthy. Reaching out for help is also normal and important.
Opening Up to Vulnerability
Starting a conversation around mental health may feel wrong or intrusive. It’s possible that if we didn’t have these conversations growing up, we will likely avoid them in our adult lives. Dr. Brené Brown describes that any unstable feelings we may get when we step out of our comfort zone, is actually, vulnerability. Vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. Vulnerability, while uncomfortable in the moment, can lead to progress and opportunity for our emotional self and our relationships. When it comes to talking about a topic as personal and intimate as mental health, we may feel a greater sense of vulnerability. This is a great skill to practice and learn at any point in our lives, and it is a key piece in starting a conversation about mental health.
Evaluating Our Own Mental Health
Asking about mental health requires some vulnerability, but how exactly do we go about starting this conversation? It may depend on your level of self-awareness. In addition to practicing and learning about vulnerability, taking the time to explore your own mental health and wellness can be helpful when wanting to talk with others about their mental health. If we can take some time to learn our own triggers, or areas where we become activated to feel more worried, anxious, or scared, this can help us to understand others when they do share about their mental health.
An important thing to keep in mind is to not compare our mental health to others mental health. Our triggers may not be others’ triggers, and our struggles may not be others’ struggles. This is normal and okay. When we spend a lot of time comparing and assessing our emotions through the lens of others, we may inadvertently be worsening our own mental health.
Getting Down To It
If you want to discuss with someone your own mental health (outside of a trained mental health therapist), first start by identifying people you trust and would like to support you. That way, if you want to continue this conversation, it can happen at any point in your relationship with it feeling less like you are using them solely as an outlet. Plus, you’ll feel comfortable enough to open up about your feelings.
If you want to discuss with someone your concern about their mental health, there are a few ways to approach this genuinely and compassionately. First, identify what it is that you are worried about. What are you noticing in their behaviors? Appearances can be deceiving, so note actions and behaviors that you have witnessed, versus what they physically look like. A healthy conversation tip can be sharing what you are witnessing, along with a simple ask of “how are you doing recently?”. If this is conveyed as being rooted in a place of genuine concern, it may signal that you are paying attention to them, and may create an opportunity to open a conversation. This may also help them to understand what their own behaviors are, as oftentimes we are not fully aware of our actions, particularly if we are experiencing mental distress. If there is someone more appropriate than yourself to address someone else’s mental health (someone closer to them, not in a position of power, etc.), this may be a more helpful person to include in or initiate the conversation.
The act of starting a conversation about mental health will not inherently make anything worse. This is a common misconception, particularly when talking about suicide and suicidal ideation. What can make someone’s mental health worse is ignoring warning signs or pretending that everything is okay when it is obviously not. Sure, unhelpful conversations may happen, but sometimes the attempt to connect can be enough.
Recognize and Applaud Your Courage
Mental health conversations require some courage, especially if this is not something that we are used to talking about. Vulnerability is a practice. We will mess up, say the wrong thing, or not reach out to others when maybe we should have. The best thing we can do is continue to reach out to others when we think they may need it, and hope our loved ones do the same for us when we need it. Mental health is essential, so taking the necessary steps to improve it should be a priority.
University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing. (n.d.). Daring to be Vulnerable with Brené Brown. Retrieved October 14, 2020, from https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/daring-be-vulnerable-brene-brown