Hasn’t it been a difficult few years? As a result, there is an increase in the number of persons who are affected by mental health issues. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, mental illness affected 21.1% of American adults in 2020, with bipolar disorder accounting for 5.6% of those cases. You might even recognize one of them. Even though you could feel compelled to assist them in getting the care they require, how can you even begin the conversation?
You must first listen without passing judgment. It can be the ideal approach to demonstrate your support. Furthermore, if you want them to finally open up and begin speaking openly about their feelings, it will require time, patience, and a little bit of subtlety on your part. Setting the stage is crucial, according to Little Rock, Arkansas-based psychiatrist and life coach Rhonda Mattox, M.D. Start these chats in a private setting where your buddy [or family member] won’t be worried that you’re trying to embarrass them or that they’ll be judged by someone who overhears.
In a similar vein, be ready to ask for genuine input that you’re going to hear and consider without immediately passing judgment or giving unwanted advise. Dr. Mattox like to start off with observations or open-ended questions. Whatever you do, she advises, “don’t start with ‘We need to talk. That will definitely end the conversation or put the other person on the defensive. You’ve come to the right place if you’re seeking for a few specific conversation starters you can utilize with a loved one.
How to start a conversation about mental health with a loved one?
These strategies can assist you in moving from a cursory exchange to a more in-depth discussion so that your loved one feels emotionally supported and as though they have the resources necessary for their well-being.
Approach #1: The casual check-in
Nkem Okakpu, Ph.D., a licensed professional counsellor and owner of The Greater Zen Counseling & Wellness House in Clifton, NJ, advises breaking the ice by saying something like: “Hey, I haven’t talked with you in a while; I just wanted to check in to find out how you’re doing—the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Instead of the frequently used “How are you feeling?” line of questioning, use this informal check-in. If a space of vulnerability hasn’t already been formed, it may be overwhelming or off-putting to someone.
Expanding the topic of the talk could help your loved one feel less anxious about sharing their feelings. You don’t have to discuss every aspect of their current mental state in one talk, even if they are sluggish to begin providing specifics about it. We need to understand the patterns that produced us so we don’t let them break us, adds Okakpu, who uses this as motivation. Naturally, this takes time but is well worth the effort. Additionally, sometimes discussing the positive aspects of life can make a loved one more comfortable disclosing their difficulties.
Approach #2: The universal touch-base
The director of Capital Psychological Services in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Sarah Berger, Ph.D., argues that “another discourse may be to acknowledge how terrible the pandemic has been for everyone.” “Things like COVID have been extremely difficult for everyone. Can you describe your experience for me? This asking structure may help open up the lines of communication generally, leading to more intimate sharing later in your conversation because it is all-inclusive rather than directed explicitly at your loved one.
If COVID is a recognized trigger for someone in your group, you might wish to avoid mentioning it explicitly. Having said that, you may apply the concept underlying this touch base to anything that seems to be a shared or collective experience, from significant events on the global scale to something more local but nevertheless widespread.
Approach #3: The direct observation
Here, you want to talk about a specific aspect of how your loved one is acting. Focus on a broad trait like being drained of energy, distant, or simply appearing depressed. Having said that, it’s imperative that you avoid putting words or emotions into other people’s mouths. Dr. Mattox advises starting the dialogue with “I” statements.
She advises saying something along the lines of: “I don’t want to be nosy, but I have observed that you have not been yourself recently. You can talk to me if you need a safe place. She offers this as an additional illustration: “I’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot on your mind. If you’d like someone to listen without passing judgment, I’ve got an ear to lend.
Since direct observations encourage sharing in a way that is safe to each individual’s comfort level on any particular day, Berger like utilizing them as discussion openers. This type of communication, according to Berger, “let the person know they are being seen and that you are there for them.” “The individual can disclose whether little or how much they desire.”
Approach #4: The strategic share
One last topic of conversation is perhaps sharing your own story, but you must proceed with extreme caution because this talk is about your loved one, not you. According to Berger, you should start the conversation by stating something like, “Last year, when I was having trouble at work, I found it useful to talk to a therapist,” and then wait to see where your friend or relative wants to take it from there.
In a similar thinking starter, Dr. Mattox proposes that you share a difficult experience in your own life: “I have been through something somewhat similar. I don’t want to rant on you, but when I was going through it, I found it comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one who struggled and that others had also experienced hardship. Again, the idea is to request consent before sharing information rather than just offering unsolicited counsel. Keep your personal commentary to a minimum because the real goal of this line of questioning is to compel the other person to discuss their troubles.
What to do if they won’t talk to you?
If you run into opposition, keep going. Dr. Mattox advises going back a few days later with a slightly different strategy, such as introducing the concept of dialogue as more of a writing exercise. She proposes doing this by presenting a diary and stating something along the lines of, “I saw this beautiful journal, and I thought of you. You don’t seem to want to talk much lately, I see. When I write and put my problems and anxieties on paper, I occasionally feel better.
The reason you are giving the journal can then be explained further by stating something like, “Sometimes the process of getting it out of your head and onto paper helps me put things in perspective,” as suggested by Dr. Mattox. Always convey your care by concluding with something sincere like, “I hope this helps.” Perhaps your loved one will feel comfortable talking about the ideas they wrote down one day, but that’s a topic for another discussion.
Ultimately, even if you employ one of these strategies that is intended to break down barriers, your loved one might not want to speak with you directly on any given day. Berger advises that you could always share a text hotline with your person in that situation. It offers them anonymity and lets them know that you care, according to the woman.