As the pandemic swept across the globe, the rise in awareness around supporting mental health hit the mainstream. The timing allowed for a collective sense of “being kind”, asking everyone to be looking out for each other and starting to have conversations around asking how people “really” were.
Which is fantastic news… but how does that work out in real life? What if you don’t have the confidence to ask or worse, what happens if you DO ask someone and they ARE in a crisis – what then do you do with that? This article will give you a few pointers in how to approach those conversations, and how to direct people to finding the help they need.
That mental health needs to be supported is undisputed. In the Manufacturing sector, research has found that over third of engineers describe their mental health as fair or poor, nearly 1 in 5 have lost a work colleague to suicide and with 75% of the sector being male there are still pressures for men to behave in certain ways and these expectations are often unrealistic.
So how do you talk about mental health when society's expectation is for men to, well, “man up”?
What is Mental Health?
Let’s be clear about what we are talking about here. We take our lead from the World Health Organisation, who define mental health as:
“… a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
We all have mental health – an absence of a mental health issue or diagnosis doesn’t mean an absence of mental health, but there is a risk that that good mental health could become lower mental health.
Mental Health is not Fixed
Mental health is fluid and changes with time and experiences. We may experience low mood today but we’ll cope with it and be okay tomorrow. The risk increases if we’re experiencing low mood or stress for an extended period of time and not coping well, and when these periods last for more than a few days or weeks then there’s a potential that a mental health issue will develop.
1 in 4 of us will experience some form of mental health issue in any given year.
How do you know when to have “that” conversation with someone?
What might we notice when someone isn’t coping?
- Changes in thinking and perception
- Changes in emotion and motivation
- Changes in behaviour
Some things to consider that might have changed:
- Tones of emails – are they a bit snippy?
- What time contact is made – is it late at night?
- Turning video off in online meetings
- Being late
- Is their body language suggesting something different to what they are saying?
- Presentation - are they unkempt, dishevelled?
- Productivity – has their work changed in terms or quality or quantity?
The changes in someone’s usual patterns or routines that we notice should not be left ignored.
The opposite of ignoring is enquiring
When we are concerned about someone, we need to enquire about them and importantly, allow the other person to speak.
Pick a safe place – whether that’s a quiet room, or going for a walk in the park together, you need to start your conversation where you won’t be interrupted and they will feel safe.
Ask them what’s on the top of their mind at the moment. You cannot cause harm by asking and you can open the conversation with what you’ve noticed. “I noticed ‘X’ and I wanted to check that you’re okay – is there anything that you want to talk about?”
The answer could be any number of factors. Allow them the space to speak – don’t be afraid of silences and try to understand and empathise with what they’re saying from their point of view. Be non-judgemental; you might think it’s trivial or disagree but remember it’s important to them.
Once you have started a conversation and someone has opened up to you, what do you do next?
Signposting to Professional Supports
If there is a crisis and risk to life then any confidentiality goes out the window and you call 999. Otherwise you can suggest appropriate support. These could be:
- Their GP
- An accredited counsellor or therapist
- A telephone helpline such as the Samaritans or SHOUT
They may not want help straight away - and that’s fine. You can’t force anyone to accept help. Just ensure that they know the support is there when they are ready.
Empower and encourage the person to make an informed decision about the next steps. Ask questions such as:
- Shall we take this one step at a time?
- What have you found helpful in the past?
- Have you thought about what might help you now?
- Is there someone you feel comfortable you can talk to about this?
There’s also a great App and website called the Hub of Hope, which tells you what services are available in your area. We thoroughly recommend downloading it onto your phone having a look at what’s available near you.
Encourage other non-professional support too. These could be things such as:
- Talking to family and friends
- Getting in touch with a support group
- Revisit or start a new hobby
- Keep active - go for walks or do some physical activity
By seeking out and taking part in positive and value adding experiences you will add to your protective factors, which reduces the risk of stresses that can push us across that threshold into that area of illness.