Talking about mental health is hard. We know firsthand from the discussions we have with our community that in our culture, we still don’t talk about mental health openly enough – especially men.
Starting a conversation about mental health can feel daunting. Whether it’s to bring up your mental health with someone or you have an inkling a friend might be going through a tough time, it’s always better to start the conversation before a crisis point is reached. A simple check-in can go a long way.
This Thursday, 9 September 2021, it’s R U OK? day – a day for checking in with those around us to help prevent suicide and raise awareness on mental health. If you’re feeling a bit stuck on how to get these important conversations going, we’ve compiled some tips from the experts below.
Why talking about mental health is so important
You know what they say: a worry shared is a worry halved. Talking about mental health is crucial to make us all feel connected and supported. Often just talking about what we’re experiencing can help prevent a person from reaching a crisis point.
On average eight people die by suicide in Australia every day, according to R U OK?. The three biggest risk factors are:
- Feeling isolated or disconnected from others
- Believing you are a burden on others or society
- Having the means to take their life
We find mental health awareness so important here at Gro because we see every day how hair loss can affect people’s mental well-being. Of course, hair loss is not a struggle for everyone, and it doesn’t always lead to a serious crisis, but it can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression in some people.
In our consultations, we hear again and again about how hair loss can cause people to feel isolated from their communities. There’s a fear of people noticing a bald patch, having to wear a hat to cover up hair loss, snarky comments from mates… all of these experiences can make a person feel down and lead to them avoiding social situations.
How to talk to someone about your mental health
If you’re experiencing mental health struggles, it’s important to talk to someone about it. You don’t need to deal with it alone, and sharing your thoughts with someone early on could prevent the struggle from becoming bigger and harder to deal with.
Choose someone you think will be supportive and find a place and time where you have privacy to talk. Texting or calling is always an option if face-to-face feels too hard to start with.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional, either. You may feel that your problems aren’t ‘severe enough’ to warrant professional help, but there’s no worry too small to reach out to someone about.
Your GP is a great starting point. In addition to practical advice, they can do a mental health assessment and refer you to other professional services, such as a psychologist. There are also numerous counselling services and 24/7 phone lines available, such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline.
How to ask a mate about their mental health
With mental health being a very personal and sensitive topic, it can feel difficult to ask someone about it. However, if you notice someone is struggling, it can mean the world to them that you cared enough to ask.
R U OK? has put together some tips on how to check in on someone you’re concerned about. It can be as simple as following these four steps:
1. Ask R U OK?
The first step is about helping the person open up to you by asking open-ended, leading questions such as “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening?”
Approach the topic in a relaxed and friendly manner, but do show you’re concerned. You can even mention specific things that have worried you, for example, them being quieter or more reclusive than usual.
If the person is not ready to talk, don’t criticise and avoid confrontations. You can tell them you’re available to talk anytime or ask them if there’s someone else they’d like to talk to.
2. Listen with an open mind
It’s important to take a non-judgmental approach to what you hear. Acknowledge their experience by taking what they say seriously, and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. If they need time to think, it’s OK to sit with the silence.
You can encourage them to explain their feelings by asking additional questions, such as “How long have you felt this way?” or “How are you feeling about that?”
Help them feel understood and heard by repeating back what they have said and checking that you have understood what they said correctly.
3. Encourage action
To encourage them to take action, ask them how you can support them or how they have managed similar situations in the past. You can also offer advice from your personal experience, or help them identify things they can do to relax and decompress.
If they’ve been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks, R U OK? recommends you encourage them to see a health professional as soon as possible. Some conversations are simply too big to take on without expert help.
4. Check in
Make a note in your calendar to check in with them in about two weeks’ time, or even sooner if they’re having a really hard time. Let them know you’ve been thinking of them and want to know how they’re doing since the last chat.
Ask whether they’ve found a way to improve or manage the situation, but if not, don’t judge.
Continue to stay in contact so they know you’re there for them. Just listening and showing genuine concern can be a massive help.
Let’s start talking about mental health
It’s always a good idea to reach out to those around us, whether it’s R U OK? day or any ordinary day – a conversation could change a life. The R U OK? website offers a whole lot of resources on how to keep the conversation going to find out how someone is really feeling.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, contact Lifeline for crisis support or call 000 if a life is in danger.