Small conversations can make a big difference - Time to Talk 2021
Today marks Time to Talk 2021 – an annual event where we are encouraged to start open discussions around conversations around mental health, to help end the stigma.
Many times, we hear the message that if you are struggling with mental health issues, to reach out. This is important – cultivating the ability to speak openly about our feelings can be a freeing feeling.
However, it is equally important for all of us to think of ways we can be proactive, reaching out ourselves to check in on one another.
During lockdown, many of us may be feeling more isolated from the day-to-day conversations that make up our life.
Thus, it is more important now than ever that we make sure to check in on one another, and get more comfortable with speaking openly about mental health.
This years’ Time to Talk theme focuses on the power of small conversations. Mental health is a ‘big’ subject. If you are looking to start a conversation with someone you care about, at times it may feel daunting.
What if I don’t have all the answers? How can I start a conversation? What is the right thing to say?
It is understandable to feel apprehensive – but the reality is, we don’t need to have all (or any) of the answers. It is not your job to “fix” peoples’ problems. Sometimes, the most powerful tool we have is that of listening.
As Time to Change state, “It can be hard to see someone you care about having a difficult time but try to resist the urge to offer quick fixes to what they’re going through. Just talking can be really powerful, so unless they’ve asked for advice directly, it might be best just to listen.”
As for how to start a conversation? Although, as aforementioned, mental health is a ‘big’ topic, even a small, casual offhand conversation can have a big impact. Lauren from Time to Change states that:
“It’s important that conversations happen at times and in places that feel natural. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about our feelings when we are doing something else. Driving in the car; jogging around the park; eating breakfast. The more typical the setting, the less unusual and uncomfortable the conversation can feel.”
"It can be hard to see someone you care about having a difficult time but try to resist the urge to offer quick fixes to what they’re going through."
Obviously during lockdown this may be a bit trickier – but even something like having a call over WhatsApp, or a (socially distanced) walk in the park can go a long way.
Normalising discussions around mental health can go a big way to eradicating stigma. Sometimes, just having to maintain the façade of being ‘okay’ can be an exhausting task in itself.
Allowing people the space to simply be honest and open about how they feel – even, or especially if they are not feeling great – can alleviate the burden of having to hide their feelings. Simply put, it’s okay to not be okay.
Lastly, there is no one universal ‘right thing to say’. Sometimes you may not get it right – and that’s okay. The important thing is to listen and learn, to center the persons’ feelings that you’re speaking to, and to let them know you care for them.
"You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure your needs are being met too."
Active listening is a powerful tool – Time to Talk explains that, “Asking questions can give the person space to express how they’re feeling and what they’re going through, and it will help you to understand their experience better. Try to ask questions that are open and not leading or judgemental – such as ‘how does that affect you’ or ‘what does it feel like?’”
It is important to remember throughout all of this to look after your own mental wellbeing too! Peer support and stigma busting conversations are so important for all of us – but you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure your needs are being met too, and remember the importance of setting boundaries.
At the end of the day, mental health is something every single one of us has. Whether you live with a diagnosed mental health condition or not, there can be times where our mental health may fluctuate to different degrees.
"Issues such as structural and everyday racism, immigration status, socio-economic class, the asylum system, inter-community views around mental health – amongst others – must all be taken into consideration."
But while mental health is universal, the way mental health conditions may impact and be experienced by groups, e.g. BAME groups, may be specific. Issues such as structural and everyday racism, immigration status, socio-economic class, the asylum system, inter-community views around mental health – amongst others – must all be taken into consideration.
We must work together to eradicate barriers and stigma around mental health – for all of us.
If you feel like you don’t have anyone that you can open up to – just remember, we are here to provide you with culturally specific, practical and emotional support, whether through peer groups or one to one counselling support.