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Alex’s top tips for talking about Mental Health

21 June 2019

Family Action’s Fundraising Officer Alex, shares her experience and tips around her mental health family monster, as part of our series of blogs promoting positive mental health in the workplace and our Time to Change Employer Pledge.

Let’s talk about mental health
When I was a teenager, there was little talk of mental health. I never heard people talk about depression or anxiety, just ‘feeling a bit stressed or blue’. Thankfully, over the last ten years or so, times have changed somewhat. There is less of a taboo about approaching the subject and more people feel confident turning to their loved ones or someone they trust for support. But that doesn’t stop there still being barriers and challenges around talking about mental health. So I decided to compile a few things that I’ve learnt from discussing my own and others’ mental health in the past, in an attempt to debunk the myths and address some of the common stereotypes…
If you seem happy then you can’t be depressed
In recent years a number of prominent comedians and actors, from Stephen Fry to Jim Carey, have spoken out about their own mental health issues, revealing the struggles they face behind their jokes and apparent confidence. Well it can be the same for non-celebs too! If someone is known as the joker of the group, don’t assume they can’t experience mental health issues. Behind a facade of confidence someone may be experiencing social anxiety. What’s more, just because someone seems perfectly content one day doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t have down days too. We shouldn’t question someone’s feelings or experiences just because ‘they seemed happy enough’. It’s important to check in with people, not just if they seem obviously down but even if they don’t. For us Brits especially, the knee jerk reaction to “How are you?” is a meaningless “fine” – be sure to ask twice, that way you give people the opportunity to disclose how they really feel.
“Have you tried running?”
I’m not denying the hugely positive effects that exercise can have on emotional wellbeing. But suggesting that a little exercise is the solution to all mental health conditions can make people blame themselves, as if it’s their own fault for not putting enough effort into managing their mental health. This can go hand in hand with judgment for taking antidepressants as treatment. Taking medication is not simply a cop out – rather than letting our own views on the subject create shame and embarrassment for others, we should allow them to make their own informed choices and find the treatment that is right for them.

“Rather than questioning the validity of what they’re experiencing, listen and empathise”

Don’t deny someone’s right to be experiencing depression
Pointing out that someone’s life is perfect and you don’t understand how they can have depression can be incredibly unhelpful. Speaking out about mental health issues is not ‘attention-seeking’, nor is it simply ‘overreacting’ – it is brave and helps others in similar situations. So we shouldn’t shut down those who have the courage to do so. Rather than questioning the validity of what they’re experiencing, listen and empathise. That way you can offer support without denying the tough time someone is going through.
Find the right moment
Despite society gradually becoming more open about mental health, the stigma still exists and some people may feel ashamed or embarrassed, especially if it’s the first time they’ve opened up to someone about how they are feeling. By no means should this mean we shouldn’t reach out to support someone however, where possible try and catch them in a quiet moment when you can privately check in and offer support. For example, if you’re worried about a friend, why not drop them a text to go for a coffee together where you can catch up with them in a comfortable environment, rather than at a social event where the whole friendship group is there.
Finding the best way to support someone with their mental health isn’t easy – be it a colleague, sibling, parent or friend. The aim of this blog is certainly not to make you scared of saying anything at all. Quite the opposite – we shouldn’t fear asking the question, it may be that you are the only person someone feels they are able to confide in. We have probably all made the mistakes above at some point, however if we try and look out for one and other on a day-to-day basis this can positively impact the emotional wellbeing of those around us. The bottom line is, if you listen and empathise, rather than judge and assume, people will feel more comfortable to open up and accept support. Don’t be afraid to trust your instinct and act as you normally would when supporting a friend – just because someone has a mental health condition doesn’t mean you should treat them any differently.
There is an amazing course available now for mental health first aid, that I did myself recently. Rather than, teaching you how to diagnose mental health, it gives you great tips for supporting someone in crisis. Family Action offers this course to companies who want to promote employee wellbeing, other professionals in the sector and any individual who wants to know the best way they can support those around them. It really is a skill for life that I would recommend to anyone and everyone!

Mental health and other family monsters become a huge pressure on us when we don’t talk about them and they can impact all areas of our lives. We are committed to reducing the stigma around family monsters like mental health in the workplace so all employees feel they can talk about them. On 27th June 2019 our CEO, David Holmes, will be signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge and making our commitment to end mental health discrimination. Stay tuned for the next installment in our series of blogs from employees sharing their own mental health journey.