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Steps to having a mental health conversation
There are moments when it can feel as though talking to someone about their feelings can seem hard. But keeping silent could make it even worse for yourself and others. You don’t have to go through this alone, support from friends, colleagues, family or a health professional can help.
If you’re worried about someone and have been avoiding starting a conversation with them about your concerns, simply letting them know you care can make a big difference.
As we shared during R U OK Day it’s important to know how to ask if someone is okay and what to do next; 1. Ask, 2. Listen, 3. Encourage action and 4. Check In
Please see below some further tips on how to start the conversation with someone.
“Is everything OK?”
“I have been worried about you. I have noticed…”
Be supportive and Encourage Action
Your active listening skills will assist here.
If someone indicates that they may be considering self harm,it is important to encourage them to seek external assistance . It is normal to feel anxious but do not panic. Speak to them about all the positive options they have at their disposal and about getting assistance. You can help them through that process and stand beside them, but remember you are not qualified to be their only support.
Offer referral for professional support
Even if the person is not considering self harm, offer appropriate supports such as their GP, Beyond Blue, UFU Welfare Officer or the Member Assistance Program.
Encourage the person to consider who/what else is of support in their lives.
This is not to brush over any concerns they have, or to say “See, you have so much to be grateful for...chin up!”, but may assist them to connect into other social supports. Connectedness is a wonderful wellbeing buffer, and helps build resilience.
Supporting a colleague, friend or family member:
What do I say? What do I do?
- Very simply—ask a question such as “Is everything OK?”; “You don’t seem yourself, are you OK?”; “You seem a bit flat…”; “Let’s go for a coffee.”
- Try to ensure minimal distractions, privacy/confidentiality, and that you both have the time to chat. Sometimes casual works best.
- Be persistent
- Be prepared to listen without judgement, listen without the need to have the answers, listen without thinking about what you want to say next.
- Use active listening skills.
- It’s better to say “That sounds really difficult...I don’t know what to say”, and sit in silence waiting for them to continue talking, than to share your story, ramble or try to fix things. Often, the situation is not ‘fixable’, but feeling heard makes it a bit more bearable.
- Be prepared to hear things that challenge your view on the world or even your values. Remember this is not about you, but about the person you are listening to. If it gets too challenging, and you think you can’t be helpful, it is best to support them to find someone more appropriate.
- If you agree to do something (e.g. I will call you next week; I will get the contact details for MAP), make sure you do it.
- Refer to appropriate supports—for you and for them. You don't have to do it alone.
- Don’t take on the other person’s problem, or become their ‘only’ support. Resilience comes through having multiple support mechanisms, and feeling a sense of self determination.