Mental Health Awareness Week 21: How to Have Conversations About Mental Health…Even if You’ve Never Done it Before

Talking about mental health is something that until a few years ago was never really on our radar. Backtrack a few years ago in our story when we started hiking, we found that the more time we spent doing this, the more we were opening up about how we felt. It was interesting as we don’t think we’d ever spoken about this before. It felt alien and weird, but the more we opened up the better we felt. – being outdoors seemed to give us the space and confidence to do so Now, and through all the training we’ve gone through, talking about our mental health is something we’re in constant communication about with both each other and our wider support network.

We see so many articles and informational pieces about the benefits of talking about how were feeling to those around us. Let’s be honest, this isn’t always the easiest conversation and talking about mental health can feel like a challenge. If it’s new to you, you may feel like you don’t have the right vocabulary – or maybe you don’t feel like you have explored how comfortable you actually feel with talking about your mental health. There is still sadly a lot of stigma around mental health, and especially conversations around this, but this is something you can absolutely get into. The trick is that it doesn’t need to be a certain way or look how it seems to come across in so much of the media. This is about exploring what works for you.

Here are our five starting points to help you open up and have better conversations about mental health:

1. Be brave and start the conversation. Generally, you’ll find people will be willing to open up a little bit more when they feel like they aren’t the first and when they can relate. Talk about how you’ve been feeling and talk about how this has influenced your mental health and your everyday. This doesn’t need to be eloquent; it can be as brief or as involved as you want to go.

2. If you’re worried about a friend, try to find a time to talk to them alone. This could be on a walk, over text or a phone call. Try to ask them how they’re doing, and you can even look to ask them specifically about their mental health, if you’re finding it tough to get them to open up.It is also important to remember not to push people and to be gentle in these conversations.

3. Try to develop a space in which you can talk about your mental health – or reframe this as just having a chat about things that might be bothering you. It could be organising something every few weeks just to check in on each other. This can look and feel however you want it to, and it doesn’t need to be a certain way. Going for a walk, whether that is alone and doing this over the phone or in a group can have a significant impact in how we open up. Getting the blood flowing is incredible for our mental health anyway – so using walking or exercise as a space to talk can be really effective.Finding common ground and things that you enjoy doing can be really helpful here. Maybe your thing isn’t getting outside together – maybe it is doing a class together where you share an experience and get to chat at the same time. This bit can be fun and you can see it as a way to explore your relationship and time together.

4. Set boundaries. It is important to remember that you might find certain topics that you really don’t want to talk about, or perhaps feel quite triggering for you. This may well be the same for who you are having a conversation with. Setting boundaries are important for our own mental health and play a really big part when we’re having conversations about it. If you know where those barriers are for you, try to have an honest conversation about any topics that are off limits. If you’re still exploring, be sure to communicate if something makes you feel uncomfortable.

5. Don’t expect miracles. Be realistic about what you expect to gain from having conversations about mental health. Remember, some people just won’t want to and that is absolutely fine. Sometimes the conversation might get really into a flow, other times it just won’t. Learning to be OK with that is what makes these conversations so much more helpful for you and everyone you’re talking to.