With the stats on youth mental health, chances are you, or someone you know, is suffering from a mental illness.
Talking about mental health is an important step in removing the stigma but it can be a tough conversation to have.
It might be terrifying- for the person that’s admitting they’re struggling and for the person who is discovering that someone they probably thought was fine is not going okay.
The thing is, there’s going to be times where your friends and family talk to you about their mental health and you won’t know what to say.
There will be awkward silences where you scramble to find the right words and you will stumble and stammer over advice that you’re not 100% sure will help. And that’s okay.
Because even if it’s clumsy, awkward and heartbreaking to talk about it, it’s so important that you do and be there for the people who need you most.
1. Know that mental illness does not make someone a failure
We’re living in a world that is constantly pushing and pulling us in a million directions. We’re always busy, there’s always something we should be doing and someone demanding our attention.
This culture of being busy and ‘productive’ is so intense that stopping or slowing down is often seen as a failure.
But, for a lot of people struggling with mental illness, stopping and slowing down is necessary or inevitable.
If someone opens up to you about how they’re not coping, don’t fall into the trap of seeing them as a failure or as weak; everyone is fighting their own battles and if someone is reaching out to you it’s your job to support them- not tear them down.
2. Sometimes, listening is enough
If someone opens up to you about their mental health, you don’t need to have all the answers, especially if you don’t know what the right answers are.
Sometimes, listening to someone letting everything out is enough.
When we say listening, we mean really listening; not dropping in and out of the conversation when you feel like it or interrupting every two seconds to jump in with your own opinion.
Actively tune in to what the person is telling you, avoid the urge to cut them off and let them get everything they need to say out before you try and get your own opinion in.
And when they’re finished, listen to how you can help them, rather than assuming that you know best.
3. Don’t make it about you
If someone has made the decision to chat to you about what they’re going through, resist any and all urges to turn the conversation back on yourself.
If you have your own experiences, feel free to share them; using your own knowledge to help empathise with someone can make the whole conversation so much easier but don’t assume to know what someone else is going through.
More importantly- don’t write off someone else’s experiences just because they don’t align with yours or because someone might seem fine on the outside.
4. Don’t give up on them
Mental health is not a short-term fix.
Just like it can take time and work to overcome physical injury, overcoming mental illness is no easy task.
Don’t give up on someone just because they don’t seem to be getting better overnight. Talking about what someone is going through is often the first step- not the end result.
Have patience, be there for the person when you can and remind them that they’re not alone.
5. Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’
Don’t go near phrases like ‘forget about it’, ‘you’re just having a bad week’ or ‘cheer up’.
Not only will this show that you know literally nothing about mental illness, it will probably make whoever you’re talking to feel like shit.
If you ever feel the urge to say these phrases- don’t.
Instead, do some research on the seriousness of mental illnesses; educate yourself so that the next time someone reaches out to you, you can actively avoid the stigma and stereotype that mental illnesses are something to ‘get over’.