Mental Health: Starting the Conversation
Every day we interact with a myriad of people; From acquaintances to best friends, work colleagues, family, life partners, regular customers… the list goes on. Over time, we form a mental picture of this person consisting of how they act and behave, their style and appearance. But what happens when they no longer conform to this picture? They stop putting on makeup, they stop coming in to the cafe on a regular basis, they start turning up to work late or not at all and they’re not their usual vibrant self? This post is all about trusting your gut starting the conversations that could save someone’s life and it’s as easy as asking… R U OK?
By starting a conversation and commenting on the changes you’ve noticed, you could help someone open up. If they say that they are not ok there are a few simple steps you can follow to show that person that they are supported and find strategies to help them manage their load. If they are ok, that person will know you are someone who genuinely cares for them and will know that you are someone they can turn to for help.
First; Make sure that you are ok.
A healthy mental state is in constant flux. It is constantly changing from happy to stressed to excited to sad. It’s when your mental state stays in a negative state for an extended period of time that you are not ok. Before helping others it’s important to first help yourself! You won’t be able to help someone fully if you need help yourself. So first ask; “Am I in a good headspace?” “Am I willing to genuinely listen?” “Can I give as much time as needed?”
Second; Make sure you are prepared.
It’s great that you want to help but have you fully thought about what that could mean? When you ask the question you have to be ready for someone to reply “No, I’m not ok.”
It’s important to know that a lot of us are not trained in mental health issues (unless you are in which case you are probably the most prepared person to talk to someone). We need to understand that we can’t “fix” someone else’s problems. All we can do is be willing to listen to someone and encourage action. Sometimes, someone may not be willing to talk about an issue just yet or may not be comfortable talking to you about it and that’s ok too.
Third; Pick the right moment
Trying to have a deep and meaningful conversation while you’re busy at work meeting deadlines or on a crowded bus or train really isn’t the best time. Make sure you find a place that is relatively private and comfortable. Also make sure that it’s a good time to talk. It’s important that both parties have enough time to talk fully.
Now to finally to start the conversation. It’s important to go into the conversation relaxed and friendly while also coming across as concerned. You can help them open up by asking open ended questions like “ are you ok?” Or “what’s been happening lately?” It’s also a good idea to mention specific things you have noticed without criticising them like “Lately you seem to be less chatty than usual. How are you going?”
If they push back and they don’t want to talk to you that’s ok. Let them know that you are concerned about them and that you care. It’s important to avoid confrontation so it’s ok to walk away. You can always say things to them like “please call me if you would like to chat” or you can always discuss your concerns with someone else. You may not be the only one to notice someone’s change in behaviour and they might open up to someone else.
Sometimes it takes some people time to open up. If they need time to think! Sit patiently with them and don’t fill the silence with unnecessary chatter.
If someone decides to open up to you it is important to listen without judgement and interruption. Don’t judge someone’s experiences or reactions but rather acknowledge that things seem tough for them right now and actively listen to them by encouraging them to explain things to you like “How are you feeling about that?” Or “ How long have you felt like that?” And show that you have listened to them by repeating back to them in your own words what they have said to you and ask if you have understood them properly.
Then it’s time to encourage action. Some people may already have equipped themselves with the tools needed to deal with their own issues you can always ask “What have you done in the past when you have felt like this?” Or “How would you like me to support you?” Other times this is the first time someone is dealing with these feelings or issues and you can always offer some of the tools you use to deal with similar experiences like “when I was going through a difficult time I tried [this]. You might find it useful too”
If they have been feeling really down for a few weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. Someone’s GP is always a great place to start as they have a lot of resources available to them but there is a wide variety of helplines and counselling resources that can help as well. One that I know of is called “Better Help” it is a service that aims to connect people with trained and licensed councillors and mental health practitioners in a way that is discreet, convenient and affordable all online so people can get help in the comfort of their own home or from rural areas that may not have access to these services. Always be positive about the roles professionals can play in helping people though tough times and encourage them to keep seeking avenues of help if they found that one they went to didn’t quite fit them.
Lastly, remember to check in with the person you have talked to. Set a reminder in your phone or diary to touch base with the person in a couple of weeks to see how they are going. If they are really struggling get in touch with them sooner. Keeping contact with someone who is struggling is a great way to remind them that they are not alone and that there are people around them that genuinely care about them. If you feel that someone’s life is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call emergency services! Paramedics and police are trained professionals as well and can ensure that they get the help they need. There are also plenty of helplines that you can call yourself if you are worried about someone else that can offer you ideas and resources to help someone else.
Lastly dear Mounties don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow mountaineers or leaders. I myself am not a trained professional but I have sought out and used a lot of help in the past and are more than happy to share my experiences the tools I’ve used or offer support in any way I can.
Useful Phone Numbers and Resorces
Crisis text line- 74 17 41 (anywhere in the US)
National suicide prevention lifeline- 1800 273 8255
National suicide prevention hotline- 1800 784 2433
The Trevor project (LGBT+ helpline)- 1866 488 7386
Mental health helpline- 1866 531 2600
Crisis Text Line- 68 68 68
LGBT Youthline- 1800 268 9688
LGBT Youthline text- 647 694 4275
Emergency- 999 or 112
National Health Services (not nation wide yet)- 111 option 2
Samaritans- 116 123
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM male helpline operating 5PM- Middnight) 0800 58 58 58
Shout (text line) 85 25 58
Lifeline- 13 11 14
Beyond Blue- 1300 22 46 36
Suicide Call Back Services- 1300 659 467
Qlife (LGBT+ helpline) 1800 184 527