Blue Monday is here once again, and people across the UK will be getting through what is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. During a month where mental health can take a hit, it’s important to be able to talk to people about how we are feeling.
A new study by health group Benenden Health has revealed that 34 per cent of Brits do not feel comfortable checking in with people on their mental health. The study of 2,000 UK adults found that fears of saying the wrong thing (33%) or being too intrusive (31%) are two of the most common struggles Brits say they face when speaking to friends and family about their mental health concerns.
Knowing how to better make someone feel comfortable (31%) would most increase Brits’ confidence to check in with others. They would also feel more confident by knowing the appropriate questions to ask (30%) and the best way to start a conversation about mental health (28%).
To help people feel more equipped and able to check in with others, Llinos Connolly, clinical services sister at Benenden Health, has shared five tips on how to talk to the people in your life about their mental health. To find out more about UK adults’ attitudes towards speaking about mental health, visit the Benenden Health website.
1. Recognise the importance of emotional wellbeing
When talking about mental health, the first step is to understand that emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing.
There is a spectrum of reasons as to why someone might be struggling with their mental health. This could range from having a bad day after oversleeping to being severely affected by a bereavement. When speaking to anyone about their wellbeing, it is crucial to take their feelings seriously and not be dismissive.
For example, while you might think telling someone “chin up” or to “crack on” will help lighten their mood, that person could feel undermined by your comments. Certainly, this will not facilitate an honest conversation about their emotional wellbeing.
2. Choose the right setting
Finding a comfortable setting is key to getting someone to open up about their mental health. This will vary depending on the individual, but try to choose a discreet location, free from distractions or interruption.
Good examples of potential settings include a quiet corner of a café, a private meeting room at work, or a peaceful walk around a park. It’s important to remember, however, that you should not let finding the perfect setting put you off starting the conversation.
3. Ask open questions
Whether you are speaking to your friends, children, or parents about their mental wellbeing, always try to ask open questions.
An open question is one that cannot be answered by simply “yes” or “no”. Some examples of open questions you could ask someone about their mental health include:
- How are you doing today?
- What’s on your mind?
- What does that feel like?
When starting a conversation about someone’s mental health, it can be helpful to include a statement before your open question. For example, “I’ve noticed you seem a little down recently. How are you doing?”
These questions naturally encourage people to reflect on their feelings, giving them the opportunity to share their feelings. On the other hand, if the person is trying to answer with short or closed responses, then don’t push them too much to open up.
4. Listen actively
As we all know, talking about your own mental health is really hard. That’s why it’s important to show you’re truly listening when you check in on others.
There are different ways to actively listen to someone. Use non-verbal cues to show that you understand and acknowledge what is being said, such as nodding your head or making small noises such as “uh huh” and “mmm”.
Active listeners should not look distracted either, so avoid fidgeting or checking your phone while the other person is talking. If you are sitting down with someone, then maintain eye contact to show they have your full attention.
Avoid interrupting the other person as it can steer the conversation in a different direction or give the impression that your opinions on the topic are more important. Instead, allow a few seconds of silence after the person stops speaking to then ask another open question.
5. Don’t rush for a solution
Remember that when you are checking in with someone, you don’t have to try and fix the situation.
Your role in that conversation is to allow someone to talk about their emotional wellbeing. You want to give that person an opportunity to discuss their feelings in a confidential manner, without interruption or judgement.
Often, people want the time and space to come to their own conclusions, so offering solutions or advice isn’t overly helpful. Sometimes, acting as a sounding board is more than enough.