Today is Time to Talk Day and so I've compiled a few tips on how to make that ever-so important conversation about mental health.
What goes into a good conversation about mental health?
1. Honesty about your own situation.
You don't have to have experience of mental illness to talk about mental health, because we all have it. You can have a healthy mind and still want to discuss stresses or ask someone else how they are managing. It's okay to be okay and still want to have a conversation about mental health, just as much as it's okay to not be okay. There is no discrimination here.
2. Time to really hear what someone else is telling you.
If you must rush off in 2 minutes to a meeting, asking someone for an in-depth conversation about how they are feeling might not be the right time. But asking someone if they are free later for a catch up if they need to talk further may make them have something to look forward to, and the knowledge that someone cares enough to make time for them.
3. A safe space.
Someone may be less likely to open-up fully to you on a packed tube station, but they may feel comfortable over a cup of tea at home or a quiet cafe.
4. Encouragement is key reinforcement that you really do care.
A lot of people with mental illnesses feel a burden to others and so good body language and encouraging, kind, words can really help them to relax and feel comfortable to talk.
The impact of talking about mental health
I've personally had people go from telling me I can't possibly have been diagnosed with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because I haven't served in the forces, to having them walk away with an understanding that any trauma can cause PTSD. I've explained to people that Personality Disorders do not make you manipulative or violent, but vulnerable and in need of support.
My Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has provoked people to say: 'don't we all struggle with emotions though?' and enabled me to explain that it's actually a lot more than that; we didn't develop our emotions properly as children due to whatever reasons and thus we find it difficult to process what is happening to us. I've also found that by talking to other people about my illness, I've become to accept it and over time it's made me feel less ashamed to admit to it; in fact I'm happy to tell almost anyone. The best thing for me came when I spoke to my dad for the first time about my illness and the trauma I've experienced. It's definitely taken the elephant out of the room, and I feel that by having those potentially difficult conversations it can bring people closer together as it did for us.
I've of course had people unwilling to listen but that's okay, you can't change everyone and it's not your responsibility to argue a lost cause. I have close relatives that find mental health difficult to accept, and I've also accepted that hard as I try, they will never come around to my way of thinking. That's okay, it doesn't make them love me any less. You are never going to get every person to see things the way you do. The message I spread is positivity and that's how you should aim to act regarding mental health. I never try to tell sob stories of my struggles, I just talk openly about my conditions and honestly say how I struggle; but also that my BPD gives me a great sense of empathy and makes me a very caring and loyal friend. The impact on me since working with Time to Change has mostly been about giving me confidence to speak publicly, but also the feeling of making a difference.
Our conversations about mental health are reaching people and making a difference, and the more we challenge the stigma the better we can make the lives of those with lived experiences of mental illness.