How to have a conversation about your mental health
Talking about mental health can be difficult but it doesn’t have to be
Talking about mental health can be difficult but it doesn’t have to be. With a few simple steps striking up a conversation about your mental health can be made easier and doesn’t have to be the ordeal that you might think.
You might come up against a negative reaction from some people, but it’s important to remember that this will only ever be from a minority of people and that the majority will most likely be really supportive about your efforts to talk about your mental health.
We’ve given you a few conversation starter tips to help you out below.
Be prepared and know what you want to say. It might also help to be prepared for every type of reaction so you know what to expect, that includes both positive and negative reactions. Have some printed information ready if you think that will help them understand better. You can print off some of the information on self harm from SpunOut.ie.
Choose the right person
Finding someone to talk about such a personal topic can be difficult. It’s important that you choose someone you know you can trust, and who won’t judge you. Have a think about someone who has been there for you in the past. It might be a GP, youth worker, teacher, friend, brother or sister. Or perhaps you might find it easier to speak to someone you don’t know very well at all. Whoever you talk to, it’s important that you’re not put off if it’s not a great experience. Don’t be put off by one bad experience, and keep talking until you get the support that you deserve.
If you are finding it difficult to talk about your mental health, some people find it useful to write their thoughts down on paper and to give it to someone as a letter.
Choose the right time
You might always be tempted to put something off because it’s ‘not the right time’, but realistically there may not ever be a perfect time. It might help to try to talk to someone at a time when they’re not busy and you won’t be interrupted.
Send them a text if you’re not ready to speak to them face to face
If you are finding it too difficult to speak face to face, send them a text message or private message on Facebook to start off the conversation. You could say something like “I need to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me for a while now. I’m a little nervous talking about it so that’s why I texted you. I’m finding things difficult at the moment.”
It’s important that you understand that if you tell a friend, family member or even a mental health professional that you are suicidal or at risk of hurting yourself that they may not be able to keep that between the two of you. Keeping you safe is of the utmost importance and to do that it may be necessary to break your confidentiality.
Tips on what I can say (conversation starter tips)
It may be a little awkward at first, as most people aren’t all that comfortable with talking about their mental health. But keep going with the conversation and you should start to relax after a few minutes.
- Start off by telling them that you want to talk to them about something important. Let them know that you are worried about how you have been feeling and that it has been concerning you for a while.
- Tell them the ways it has impacted on your daily life. You may have noticed changes in your appetite or in your sleeping patterns for example. Or maybe you are spending more time in your room alone and avoiding people. You may have noticed that your mood is lower than usual or that you are much sadder than usual.
- Let them know of the ways that they can help you. Maybe they can make more time for you, or maybe you want them to accompany you to a doctor or counsellor for some support.
- Don’t be put off by loads of questions. Your friend or family member will most likely have lots of questions for you. They might want to know how long things have been like this, or what they can do to help.
- You’ll probably feel relieved after talking to them as keeping something to yourself can be stressful. But don’t be alarmed if you don’t get the reaction you were hoping for. Most people are not used to speaking about mental health and may not be informed about the topic, so give them some time to educate themselves before making any harsh judgements. It might help to print off some SpunOut factsheets and give them to them.
- If your conversation isn’t with your parents, you might want to have a think about talking to them too.
- Remember, that everything won’t be fixed after just one conversation so be patient and don’t try to rush things.
What if they react really badly?
Mental health is often very misunderstood and this can often cause people to have unhelpful responses. This is not ideal, and does not in any way reflect on you. Don’t get discouraged and if you don’t get the reaction that you want keep trying.
If you have spoken to a friend or family member and they have reacted badly, it may be worth giving them some time to think about what you’ve told them, as it may have come as a shock. It may help to print them off some information from SpunOut.ie about mental health and ways that they can help you.
It’s important that you don’t let this put you off talking about your mental health, as just because one person might have reacted badly does not mean everyone will have the same reaction.
Seeking professional help
- If you don’t have anyone you can confide in, there are loads of professionals that you can speak to.
- Your GP should be your first port of call and can refer you onto people like counsellors, psychiatrists or psychologists.
- Jigsaw is a free counselling service for young people aged 12-25 years of age, and has centres around the country. You can find more information out on www.jigsaw.ie.
- Pieta House is a free counselling service which specialises in working with people who self harm or are suicidal. They have centres around the country and often have very little waiting times for appointments. Find out more on pieta.ie.
- You can also ring a listening service such as Childline or Samaritans. Or take part in an online chat on mental health support website Turn2me.org
- Read our articles on attending a GP for a mental health issue.