Tips for Breathing Life into #letstalk
Tomorrow is a huge day for mental health advocates across the country. Bell Canada’s annual Let’s Talk Day serves as a perfect opportunity to bring conversations about mental health to the forefront. “Let’s Talk” challenges us to take the leap and initiate this topic when we see signs that someone might be struggling, and equally to speak openly and reach out for help when we might need it ourselves. For years now #letstalk has been one of the country’s most well-known mental health awareness campaigns but how, exactly, can we bring this idea to life in the real world?
If you’ve noticed signs that someone just doesn’t seem like themselves lately and your worried about their mental health, find a time and place that’s private, quiet and relaxed and ask how they’re doing. Let them know you’re there for them and want to help. Here are a few tips to bear in mind as the conversation gets going:
1. Be genuine
It’s easy to get hung up on precisely how to phrase everything you say when you’re talking about mental health. While it’s important to use sensitive language the fear of saying the wrong thing all too often holds us back from saying what needs to be said, or even from initiating the conversation at all. More important than using the exact right words is just coming across with genuine care and concern. That means speaking the way you really speak – no script required. There’s no “right” way to talk about mental health. At the end of the day, if you bring up this important topic when you sense someone might be going through a tough time, they’re not going to remember the exact vocabulary words you used. What they’ll remember is that you helped them when they needed it.
2. Be patient
It might take time for a person to open up. Try to communicate to them that you’re not there to try and strongarm them into having a conversation they’re not ready for, or sharing more than what they’re comfortable with. Understand that some level of trust usually has to develop before a substantive conversation can take place. Practice being OK with silence – don’t give in to the temptation to jump in and fill that space. Maybe the person just needs an extra moment to collect their thoughts or think about how to word what they want to say. We don’t have to have all the answers. We just need to be ready to listen.
Because of the stigma around mental health, someone who’s struggling might be feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Validation of a person’s feelings and the fact that they’re going through something tough can go a long way. In a way this goes against what’s a natural instinct to many: trying to convince someone of all the reasons they shouldn’t feel the way they feel. If a person tells you, “It feels like everything in my life is falling apart,” we may be inclined to respond with “But that’s not true, you’ve got a great job, a beautiful family, friends who care for you…” etc. This is a sentiment that comes from a good place – you care about this person and you hate to see them struggling – but the way a person feels is the way they feel. When someone’s experiencing a mental health problem, there’s no magic phrase you can speak that will instantly change their feelings. The goal in these conversations is not to talk them into feeling differently than they do right now; it’s to connect with them, to make them feel heard, understood and supported. You can do that by acknowledging what they’ve shared by responding with, “That sounds really tough,” “You’ve under so much stress right now,” or “I’m sorry to hear you’re going through that”.
4. Check back in
Once you’ve opened the door it’s so important to make a point to touch base with a person again later on. In the aftermath of a conversation where someone discloses that they’re struggling with their mental health, especially if it’s been an emotional discussion or they’ve shared a lot of personal details, it can sometimes feel awkward or uncomfortable. The person may second-guess whether it was a good idea to share what they shared. A casual follow-up is a great way to put their worries to rest: “Hey, I’ve been thinking about our chat the other day. I’m so glad you felt comfortable sharing with me. How are you feeling today?” Reassure them that if they ever need a sounding board, you’re happy to play that role and to help any way you can.
Talking about mental health can feel scary if it’s not something we have much experience with. It may take a little time for it to really start feeling natural. Initially it might feel uncomfortable. You might feel vulnerable. You might feel out of your depth. But remember, these are vital conversations to have. We can make the journey easier for someone who’s struggling simply by pushing ourselves a little outside our comfort zone. So, tomorrow and the other 364 days of the year, let’s talk. It’s more than just a hashtag.
P.S. Get all the details about the Let’s Talk campaign and download a free toolkit for your workplace at letstalk.bell.ca.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.