Having conversations about mental health is more important than ever. The pandemic has certainly taken a heavy toll on many, but its impact has also resulted in the emergence of mental health narratives previously regarded as taboo or unnecessary. The topic of mental health has risen through the ranks and is here to stay. However, taking the first step is never easy. How does one begin talking about mental health? Here are some tips that may come in handy.

Sharing is Caring

Studies conducted during the period of August 2020 to February 2021 concluded that there was a 5.1% increase in the percentage of adults in the US with recent symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder. There was also a 2.1% increase in the percentage of those with unmet mental health care needs. Given that many of us have been dealing with prolonged periods of uncertainty, multiple lockdowns, social isolation, and health scares, just to name a few, there is no doubt that our mental health has suffered.

It may be a tricky topic to navigate, but how do you let people know you’re willing to talk about mental health? The first step is to be open about your own. Self-advocacy is an effective way to reach out to those whose experiences may resonate with yours, as well as the general public.

Words serve as a powerful medium. Personal experiences with mental health can be shared through think pieces or social commentaries. The wealth of popular digital media platforms available allow users to easily write and share thought-provoking pieces about their own struggles with mental health.

For example, budding writers who write for a Millennial and Gen Z audience should submit pieces that might get featured on Buzzfeed or other information sites targeted towards the youth. Mental health infographics created by those with an eye for visuals can be circulated on Instagram and Twitter in a matter of seconds.

For those who prefer to keep things a little more private, your social circle can be a great place to start. Gradually ease the topic of mental health into conversations with friends. You could start with a simple “I’ve been struggling lately, but talking to someone was really helpful for me” if you are looking to talk about your experiences with a mental health professional.

A Safe Space

Even within a small social circle, the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health can make opening up and expressing one’s feelings extremely daunting. If your friend, loved one, or colleague expresses a willingness to share, you can support them by offering a safe space. As a listening ear, patience, acknowledgment free from judgment, and empathy are what you should also provide.

Asking the right questions is also of utmost importance. Never make assumptions about how someone feels; it is always better to be curious and ask away without being intrusive. Even if you have been through something similar, mental health experiences are always different.

Every conversation serves a purpose. If you are opening up to someone, make your intentions clear at the beginning. Do you want them to provide emotional support? Do you want them to just listen, without any suggestions or interruptions? Do you want them to give you concrete advice or a specific plan of action? Having an idea of what you want to take away from the conversation allows for direction and structure. It can be incredibly therapeutic and grounding, and it leaves no room for misunderstandings or confusion.

One way to approach the topic on a less personal note is to turn to films, documentaries, books, and other forms of media that address or portray mental health narratives. You and your friends can take on a detached third-person perspective that allows for the discussion and exploration of specific issues. For example, watching a documentary on a celebrity or public figure who openly speaks about their struggles with mental health can be a bridge for such conversations, which may eventually evolve to include more personal concerns.

Research by the National Alliance on Mental Health revealed that 20.6% of U.S. adults, or 1 in 5 adults, experienced mental illness in 2019. The numbers are climbing, and that in itself is of great concern. It is high time we debunked myths surrounding mental health and created more safe spaces for healthy and open conversations. Are there friends or family members you have not spoken to in a while? Reach out to them. Check on them.

Indeed, communication is key. We can break the silence around mental health by talking honestly and openly about it. Conversations about mental health may be challenging, but they matter. In a time where social isolation and loneliness is prevalent, creating conversations and maintaining connections might be the only antidote we need.