Time to Talk Day

Time to Talk Day – How to have conversations about mental health

Written by Mason Quah, Marketing Assistant

The second of February is Time to Talk Day: mental health charities are urging people to have honest conversations about mental health, but do you know how to do that? And do you know how to signal your willingness to help someone? What is the best way to communicate your struggles without being treated differently? For many people the strategy they settle on is to just stay quiet until these feelings boil over. This lack of understanding is why the Lancet found mental health training to correlate to fewer sick days taken in an office.

There isn’t a singular right way of talking about mental health, but there are some common mistakes that people make which can result in the situation getting worse. Avoiding these easy errors may help you to hold dialogues that help people around you.

1: Focus on questions, not answers:

Parliamentary statistics show one in six people in the UK have had an episode of depression or anxiety in the past week. The issue is widespread but solutions can’t be made with a cookie-cutter or a checklist. Often, giving solutions to a person confiding about problems doesn’t help them: It may even worsen the situation either by giving advise that doesn’t help or by making them feel they aren’t being listened to. If your solution is liable to appear on the first page of a google search the odds are they’ve tried it before confiding with you. Unless they specifically ask you to provide advise the best you can do is listen to them: Discussing mental health is a consensual process and you should engage with the parts they are willing to talk to you about. Ask questions that show you’re listening but don’t pry beyond what they’re willing to tell you.

2: Don’t let what they tell you change how you treat them

Mental health challenges are an isolating experience. The worst thing you can do to somebody who feels separated from everyone else is to push them away to help them. Many people feel the impulse to tread on eggshells to avoid making a person feel worse but this can just make them feel excluded or patronised. The keyword again here is consent: If they ask to be treated in a certain way you should, but otherwise you may make things worse. It may also come across as a betrayal of trust if other people pick up on the difference in treatment and learn about the persons mental health challenges without being told directly.

3: Keep at it for more than just today

Mental health is an ongoing progress. It often isn’t ‘cured’ in the traditional sense and that means keeping some vigilance about the topic. Don’t expect a single conversation on mental health to give a clean resolution or sense of closure to the topic.

Something that is often brought up in medicine is the “half-life of knowledge”. The time that training and knowledge of a topic remains accurate is limited. A doctor who hasn’t practised in 4 years can expect half of their knowledge and training to be obsolete. Obviously, we don’t get rid of doctors every 4 years, so they need to constantly be updating their understanding of health. Mental health is less dramatic but the same thing happens. Your understanding of mental health won’t be complete from reading a single blog or attending one seminar: It will never be complete and recognising that it is an ongoing process stops us from getting complacent.

Managing for mental health is an iterative process of learning what works for the people around you. To understand how to learn this, the civil service offers courses on managing for mental health along with several common causes of poor mental health such as imposter syndrome, Mental Health Awareness, Wellbeing for Men and Normalising Emotional and Mental Health in the Workplace

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