It's time to talk about mental health

4 February 2021

4 February is Time to Talk day, bringing us together to break the silence around mental health. We've brought together some advice for you to be able to open up to others about mental health, and support your loved ones in opening up to you.

Two people sitting opposite each other holding cups of coffee

We all know the old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. Well, the person who invented that was definitely not lying! Opening up to others can be really hard, but the relief and benefits of doing so are not insignificant. So, we’re talking about how to open up to others and how you can support others to open up to you.

Why talk?

Sharing can help to develop support from people you trust, break down communication barriers, and show others that it’s okay (and positive!) to talk about mental health. This is particularly important during the COVID-19 crisis, when many of us have unprecedented levels of stress.

In sharing, you might just feel that little bit less stressed, worried or anxious – some people even feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. Whether you’ve talked to others about your mental health before or not, it’s completely normal for it to feel overwhelming or daunting. But I can guarantee it will be worth it.

How to start a conversation

If you want to start speaking to loved ones about your own mental health, sometimes it can be hard to start those conversations off. Remember, you are not obliged to tell them anything. You might find it helpful to rehearse this conversation in your head beforehand – but if that makes you too nervous, that’s okay! You could also write your thoughts down to feel them out, and/or have on hand so you don’t forget what you are hoping to say.  

Have a think about what you would like to communicate to your loved ones. You might want to lay out how you have been feeling recently, so they can understand where you are at. It may also be useful to think about how you would most like them to support you – would you benefit from them checking in with you every so often, calling at a certain time each day/week/month, or being able to go for a coffee together? If you would find sitting down dace-to-face too intense, why not go for a walk, do it while cooking or over the phone? There is no right or wrong way to go about these conversations – only the way that works best for you.

Dealing with bad reactions

Unfortunately there is still plenty of stigma around mental health and not everyone will be able to or try to understand. Remember that this is that person’s problem, not yours. It is your choice how to proceed in this scenario. You could give them some reading materials, for example, so they can understand what you are going through, particularly if you have a diagnosis. Sometimes they will need time to learn and understand how you are feeling.

How to support others  

Mental health is complex and individualised. This means that one person’s mental health concerns will look different to the next person’s, even if they share a diagnosis that is the same or similar. As a result, it is important to create space for others to talk about how they feel, and listening is the best way to do this in an open way. Try to create a supportive relationship by asking how they really are, and showing up for them to show you really care and you are there for them. This may well mean more to them than you know. 

Making them feel comfortable and able to share, explaining that you are there to listen and won't be judgemental. Give them time to talk, and let you know what's on their mind. You don't need to fill silences either - just keep listening, and open the space up for them to talk. 

In a worst case scenario, the person won’t want to divulge any detail, may be afraid to show weakness, or won’t know what to say. That’s okay, and it’s not your fault or your responsibility. What you can do is keep asking how they are and showing them you care.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to solve their mental health issues, but you can be there to support them through it. You aren’t going to be their saviour – and you aren't going to have all the answers. The important thing is to be empathetic and understanding. 

If you know they are struggling, instead of asking how you can help them, why not just do something? If you live close by, why not make them some food and drop it over to take one thing off their plate, or offer to see them for a socially distanced walk. Sometimes it’s easier to open up in person, and creating a space for that to happen is essential.

Visit our pages to find out how to access support from Student Support and Wellbeing.

Learn how to support someone with grief during the COVID-19 pandemic.