Today marks Bell Let’s Talk Day. This is the 13th time Bell has helped start the conversation about mental health and I thank them for that. This year, however, I’m going to ask you to entertain just a slight, but significant change, to its title, ‘Bell Let’s Talk AND Listen Day’.
To start any conversation about our mental health is a huge first step towards discovery, recovery and hope. However, it really isn’t a true conversation if we only talk and don’t listen. (It’s assumed that we all realize that in order to listen we need to hear as well.) A concern I often hear from family and friends, is that the person they are trying to help doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to accept that they have an illness, or doesn’t reach out for treatment. So, as family members, friends, colleagues, what can we do to help?
Create a safe space to listen. A big part of creating a safe space is choosing the right location. If you’re a colleague, having a conversation in the lunch room wouldn’t be ideal. Choose a more private comfortable location off site, or a private meeting room. Or for a family member, choosing a time and location without other family members around.
Explain why you’d like to talk and that you’re concerned. Start the conversation by stating what you’ve noticed in the person and that you’d like to talk because you’re concerned. For example: “I’ve noticed lately you’ve been missing more work than usual, and that you’re withdrawing from everyone. I’m concerned this isn’t like you. Can we talk?”. For someone who is in denial, we may want to ask “I’m seeing these changes in you. Are you seeing them?”.
Listen to understand not fix. When it comes to our loved ones, we often want to fix the problem. We want to tell them the solution of what they should do to feel better. However, when we tell someone what to do, we often will get the opposite reaction of what we’re hoping for. They may push back more. Try this instead. Give them a space to talk without trying to present a solution. Try a little “toxic positivity”, such as “don’t worry everything will be ok” and “just focus more on the positives in life”.
Ask more questions. Rather than tell a person how they should feel or what they should do it always better to ask someone how they are feeling, or what they feel they need. For example: “How long have you been feeling this way?” “How come you are not reaching out to a mental health professional?” “What does help look like for you?”
Maybe they aren’t ready to talk or listen…right now. But you can let them know you are ready, anytime, with a safe, non-judgmental space. And while we can do this any time of the year, today gives us a reason to take a first step with our ears wide-open.
So today let’s listen and create safer spaces to help someone talk. I hope that some of these skills help you have tough conversations, not just today on #BellLetsTalk day but anytime you’re worried about a person's mental health.
Interested in learning more about Mental Health First-Aid? Please learn more here.
Editors Note; Christina Fuda has been a Mental Health First Aid instructor with Ontario Shores Centre For Mental Health Sciences for over 9 years and helped to educate thousands of people on how to have healthy conversations with those in their lives living with mental illness.