Discussing mental health with those we know well

More businesses are recognising that the mental health of their employees is as important as their physical health. As colleagues, managers and workmates we may face situations where we are not sure how to talk to someone about their mental health. Vomiting and stomach upsets can be easier to discuss than depression and anxiety!

A few words of advice might just help you to feel more prepared for chatting to a workmate or friend about their mental health. First and foremost, telling them to ‘cheer up’ is not helpful, but at the same time claiming that you know how they feel can invalidate what they are going through.

If it’s the first time we have experienced mental health issues in a friend or colleague, that first conversation can be tricky. Here are some useful tips:

Plan your conversation.

Think about what you want to say and when. Whilst you don’t need to be an expert to have the conversation, it can be helpful to think about what you want to say in advance. Also choose a good time and place to talk, when you are both relaxed and have time to talk. Rushing off mid-way through the conversation will not demonstrate that your concerns are genuine.

Treat them with sensitivity and warmth.

Be there for them and be genuine – if you seem to be ‘going through the motions’ they are less likely to feel they can open up. Be accepting of them and their current reality. Demonstrate empathy without trying to second guess how they feel.

Listen to them.

We can sometimes be with someone and be in a conversation with them without actually listening to them. Active listening skills will come in very handy in a conversation like this. Fully concentrate on what they are saying and maintain good eye contact with them. Demonstrate that you have understood with head nods, smiling and agreeing with them. Don’t feel you have to plug a silence immediately. Giving them time to pause and think can be a useful tool in encouraging them to open up more.

Recognise that they are the same person they always were.

The core of them hasn’t changed so if they are someone you felt relaxed around before, then this doesn’t need to change. Keep the conversation relaxed and open. Ask them open questions to encourage them to open up but if they don’t seem ready, let them know that you are there for them whenever they need you.

Ask them what you can do to help.

Offering solutions that you think might work isn’t necessarily a good place to start. This is their reality and only they can know how they are feeling. With that in mind, ask them what they think might help them feel better/get support. Ask them what you could do to help them at this time.

Lastly, when we see that a colleague or friend is suffering with a mental illness, all too often we immediately feel guilty about not seeing the problem earlier. Don’t! The changes people experience can be very gradual and people often hide the symptoms for as long as they can, meaning that it often goes unnoticed for some time.

Freedom Therapy is based in Belper, Derbyshire and offers one to one counselling and psychotherapy. Belper is easy to reach with direct regular train access from Duffield, Derby and Matlock. Our therapy room is on the A6 so is easily commutable from Ashbourne, Darley Abbey, Allestree and beyond for those looking for psychotherapy. Do get in touch if you feel we can be of benefit to you. We are also able to support businesses with mental health awareness and supporting their employees.