Thursday 3rd February is Time to Talk Day, a campaign collaboratively ran by mental health charities across the UK which actively encourages people to talk about mental health with the aim of tackling the stigma and discrimination surrounding it.
We all have mental health. Throughout our lives, our mental health will fluctuate, just as our physical health does. We will have times where we juggle the daily stresses of life with little to no issue and recognise when we need to perhaps practice more self-care or seek advice from a friend or family member. But for one in four of us, in any given year, we will experience a mental health condition. It’s during these more difficult times that it can be hard to talk about how we are feeling, whether that is through fear of judgement, feeling isolated or not knowing how to start those all-important conversations.
Time to Talk day aims to encourage us all to normalise conversations about mental health. By doing so, we can help those who are struggling to feel as though they can be open about what they are thinking and feeling. This in turn also helps to foster supportive communities where people know how and where to access help or advice should they need it in the future. By talking, we can quite literally save lives.
For some of us, starting a conversation about mental health can seem scary. We may not know how to talk to someone who is experiencing a mental illness or feel anxious that we may say the wrong thing. We’ve compiled some tips that we believe can help us start these vital conversations.
- Make it a part of your normal routine.
Do you and your friends meet up over a coffee? Do you prefer to binge-watch Netflix? Perhaps you play a certain sport together? Whatever it is that you normally do when catching up with friends or family, start a dialogue about mental health while you’re doing it. Talking about mental health doesn’t have to be formal or scripted. Sometimes the best way to encourage people to open up is by taking the time to ask a simple “how are you?” when you’re going about your daily lives. Normalising the conversation helps challenge the taboo around mental health.
- Listen, don’t judge.
It seems an obvious one, right? But sometimes it can be difficult to listen without judgement. As individuals, we have preconceived ideas and perspectives about the world around us. At the end of the day, it is these very things that make us unique! But it can also mean that sometimes we don’t take the time to listen and empathise with those who are sharing something that is difficult for them. Rather than judging, try and put your personal views to one side when someone is opening up. It can be damaging to invalidate the experiences of someone who is already feeling vulnerable and going through a difficult time.
- Offer to help them find further support.
For a lot of us, simply having a conversation about what we are going through can ease the burden. But other people will maybe benefit from accessing support from a GP, a helpline, or a charity. We’ve listed some places at the end of this post that can offer specialist advice and support, but you can also find lots more services with a quick online search. Whilst some people are comfortable in going to GP appointments by themselves, offer to go with them (if you also feel comfortable in doing so) or even just help them make a phone call. If the person seeking support chooses to do these things themselves, offer to help them write a list about what they want to say or ask so that they don’t feel as overwhelmed when they reach out to their GP or another service. This also helps in empowering the individual who is seeking support. But respect their decision either way and don’t take control of the situation.
- If appropriate, discuss and support them in finding ways that promote self-care.
When talking about self-care, it’s important we carefully consider the language we are using. Whilst it may seem fine to share what works for you, respect the fact that what works for us may not work for someone else. Brainstorm ideas together and consider things like taking a walk with a friend; having a coffee over Zoom; exercising; taking a bath; healthy eating; meditation and mindfulness. Remember to work at their pace and encourage them to try different forms of self-care until they find what helps them.
- Look after yourself.
Having conversations about mental health is
incredibly important and can really help those who are struggling. But sometimes you may be struggling yourself or may even be triggered by what someone else is sharing with you. Do not be ashamed of these feelings – looking after your own mental health is vital too. There are limits to the help you will be able to offer and it’s essential that you understand these. Give yourself time to rest and seek support if you have been triggered. And remember, you are not a medical professional and cannot be expected to be one. Keep these boundaries in mind before starting a conversation.
Where to go for extra support:
- Togetherall is a free, anonymous, 24/7 online community available to all Edinburgh Napier University students. Head to https://togetherall.com/en-gb/ to sign up.
- The Student Counselling & Mental Wellbeing team offers a range of support and advice for students who are experiencing stress, anxiety or other mental health issues due to personal circumstances or academic pressures.
- Breathing Space is a confidential helpline for anyone who feels overwhelmed and needs someone to listen, open Mon-Thurs 6pm-2am and Fri-Mon 6pm-6am. Telephone: 0800 83 85 87.
- Nightline is another confidential telephone and instant messaging helpline run by students for students. All volunteers are trained. Open during term time, 8pm to 8am. Telephone: 0131 557 4444. http://www.ednightline.com/
- Visit the Wellbeing, Support & Inclusion pages on MyNapier for more places to access support and advice.
by Kimberley Sim – Disability Inclusion Student Ambassador