2nd February 17

Talking about mental illness is something which I personally find very difficult to do. I’m better than I used to be and my ability to talk about it online has improved so much over the last year or so that I’ve surprised even myself. Talking about it in person is still a difficult one for me, and I know that I’m not alone in this. Talking about mental illness is one of the most difficult things ever, because often, it can feel like there’s nobody around who would relate even if you did open up. In reality, this just isn’t the case.


Mental illness is more prominent in 2017 than it ever has been and slowly, we’re reaching a point where the stigma is dwindling thanks to the hundreds of brave individuals fighting it daily online, through volunteering and through networks like Time to Change. Time to Change is an organisation set up to stop the stigma surrounding mental illness and today is their Time to Talk Day – a day dedicated to encouring people to not only open up about their own mental health, but to help others to do so too. As somebody who has always struggled with talking about it, I thought I’d put together a few tips and tricks I’ve learnt on how to open up about your own mental health, as well as how to be a supporter for someone else.


How to talk


1. Find someone you feel comfortable opening up to. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as you feel like you can speak to that person. Whether it’s a parent, a teacher, a friend or a stranger on the internet. Talking to anyone is better that bottling it up.


2. Wait until you’re ready. Maybe this goes against the previous point, but it is important that you feel comfortable enough to talk about it. It doesn’t all have to come out at once. You’re on a journey to recovery and some journey’s take time. The first conversation is always the hardest, but things will only get better after that.


3. Remember your feelings are valid. It’s okay that you’re feeling this way, and it’s okay that you’re asking for help. Asking for help does not make you weak. It makes you strong as hell. Telling someone that you’d like their support does not make you an attention seeker or a hypochondriac. It makes you brave.


4. Can’t talk? Write. This was a big one for me. I’ve always found that I have a better way with written words than spoken ones. Finding it impossible to voice what’s going on in your head? That doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop. Write a letter to a friend. Write a blog post. Send a text. A tweet. There are people out there who care more than you think and somebody will always be listening.


How to listen


1. Empathy is everything. If somebody is reaching out to you about their mental illness, understand how difficult this situation is for them and the amount of trust which they’re putting into you in that moment. Don’t mock their thoughts or feelings no matter how unfamiliar they seem to you. Your job is to listen. To offer comfort and to tell that person that they’re safe.


2. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Mental illness is definitely unexplored territory for a lot of us – and that’s okay. You don’t have to understand and you don’t have to have all of the answers. That’s not what we’re looking for. You need to be a crutch, a shoulder to cry on and a listener. Two people tackling a problem is better than one, so make sure that person knows that you’re in this with them.


3. This isn’t about you. As helpful and comforting as it is to hear other people relate to your experiences with mental illness, telling someone “don’t worry, we all have bad days!” is not what that person needs to hear in that instance. Make them feel valid and don’t play their feelings down to something which everyone goes through. Remind them that they’re normal, but don’t make them feel invisible.


4. Don’t let it end there. One conversation is great, but opening up is just the start. That person has done the most difficult part and now it’s your turn to step up. Sometimes, for somebody suffering with a mental illness, just knowing that someone is there to listen is the most important part. Make sure to check in when you can. Send a text to let them know you’re there. Make time and be somebody who they can turn to whenever they need you. Don’t let things finish with one conversation.


Struggling to talk about your own mental health? There are so many places to turn to who are ready and willing to listen to you. Time to Change have listed just a few of these helplines here. You are valid and somebody is always listening.