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Doing Mental Health - To Talk by Tasha Broomhall

Mental Health Week begins on October 7th, 2018. To celebrate, we are sharing a series of articles by seven different writers each of whom have chosen a verb that for them, relates to mental health. We’re calling this series ‘Doing Mental Health’ and you can look forward to reading ‘to Talk’ ‘to Be’ ‘to Self-Care’ ‘to Change’ ‘to Permit’ ’to Speak’ and ‘to Balance’. You’ll find one new article every day of Mental Health Week and we hope you enjoy each and every one. Thank you to Tasha Broomhall from Blooming Minds for this helpful piece - To Talk.

One of the most important conversations you can have with a person is the conversation about how they are faring in terms of their mental health and wellbeing.

Many of us have had the experience of noticing a change in the behaviour or mood of someone we know and/or care about, yet we often do not know how to approach them to talk about mental health issues openly and respectfully.

Sometimes we say nothing because we are afraid of saying the “wrong” thing or offending the person. This might mean that we don’t connect with and offer help and support to someone who really needs it.

There are three components to having this conversation appropriately:

APPROACH THEM SENSITIVELY – TIME, PLACE, LANGUAGE
DON’T DIAGNOSE – VALIDATE
DO WITH, NOT TO
1. APPROACH THEM SENSITIVELY
–TIME, PLACE, LANGUAGE

Neither of you should feel rushed, nor be likely to be interrupted. Choose a time when you are able to dedicate your full attention to the person and you can take the time to listen and connect with them, if they need you to. The place where you talk about mental health issues is also a factor in that you should both feel safe and private (particularly in the workplace or anywhere that the person may be sensitive about disclosing their issues to others). The language that you use is critical. You have the best chance of engaging positively with the person if your language is respectful and non-judgemental. Inappropriate language can increase stigma and prejudice. It can also increase misunderstanding and feed negative stereotypes, and make a vulnerable person feel more isolated, misunderstood and hopeless. If the person has disclosed his or her diagnosis to you and is happy for you to share this information with others, then:

Instead of “He’s suffering from schizophrenia” or
“He’s schizophrenic”, say:

• “He’s living with schizophrenia/depression/anxiety,
etc.”

Instead of “She tried to top herself ” or “Unsuccessful
suicide”, say:

• “She attempted suicide.”

Instead of “He did himself in” or “He committed
suicide”, say:

• “He completed suicide.”

• “He died through suicide.”

2. DON’T DIAGNOSE – VALIDATE

Your goal for this discussion is not to diagnose or therapise someone. The goal is to connect with them about their experience, and to support them to understand that mental health issues can be a common experience and that there is help available. Avoid using diagnostic terms and offering medical or psychological opinions unless you are qualified to do so. You want to validate that their experience is real for them and reassure them that there is help available.

Saying things such as: “It’s not that bad. You’re just making a mountain out of a mole hill,” is not helpful. Instead say something that respects that their perspective is real for them, even if you don’t understand it, such as: “I’m so sorry that is what’s happening for you, that must be really difficult,” is more appropriate.

3. DO WITH, NOT TO

Many people are tempted to offer advice and opinions on exactly what they think the person needs to do. In doing this you risk not connecting with the person and not empowering them to do what is truly the right thing for them. Instead, offer information on a range of supports that are available (research this information before you have the discussion), and help the person to clarify their various options. Then allow them to make a decision as to how they wish to proceed and who they want to have involved in this process.

One way that I recommend to have this conversation is to use a simple 3 step process:

“I’ve noticed ...”

“Have you noticed ...?”

“Zip It!”

Start the conversation by telling the person that you have some concerns about them and that you care about them. Describe what you have noticed that has led to these concerns. Keep your observations objective and measurable (you should not attempt to give them a diagnosis or just tell them your judgements and opinions!). By stating the observed change in their behaviours or by simply saying, “I’ve noticed ...” you need to only focus on their behaviour, and not your interpretations of what this behaviour means.

Asking them “Have you noticed ...?” gives them an opportunity to connect with you if they choose to do so. It helps them to clarify if you are on the right track or if there is some other reason for their behavioural changes.
The final step in the process then involves you not saying anything:

‘Zip It!’ Many people find this the most difficult stage of the process, but it is vital that you let the person find, organise and relay their thoughts to you, if they so choose. You sometimes need to be silent for twice as long as you think is socially appropriate, to allow the person to catch up to you with their thoughts, and to decide what they are willing and comfortable to disclose in this situation.

If they do open up and talk to you about what is happening with them, your goal shouldn’t be to counsel them or come up with solutions for them (if it was that simple they would’ve figured it out for themselves already). Your goal is to connect with them, show compassion and empathy for their distress (even if you don’t understand it – the good news is you don’t have to!), and then help them continue towards getting some support and help.

Asking them the following questions may help you with this:

• Does anyone else know how you are feeling?
• Are you currently getting any support or help with this?
• Have you thought of what might be helpful for you?
• Is there anything that you can think of that I can do to help?

If they can’t think of anything, then maybe make some suggestions. You could help them to find generalist services and resources such as seeing a GP, or search for appropriate local services with them. If they do agree to go and see someone, it might help to offer to call and set up an appointment for them, or even to attend the appointment with them. This all depends on your relationship with the person and what is appropriate under the circumstances.

If they do not disclose anything and do not wish to have this conversation with you, then simply let them know that you are available in the future should they decide to talk. Provide them with suggestions of where they can get other support if they do not want to discuss their situation with you.

If at any point you have concerns about someone’s immediate safety or risk of suicide, do not leave the person alone. Seek urgent crisis support.

In Australia call:

Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467

Lifeline 13 11 14

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Tasha Broomhall

Tasha Broomhall is the Director and lead facilitator for Blooming Minds Mental Health and Wellbeing which has partnered with organisations and communities to develop cultures of positive mental health and wellbeing for the past 10 years.

After spending the beginning part of her career working individually with employees living with mental illness to manage its impacts in the workplace, she recognised a gap in manager understanding of mental illness and their legal obligations and responsibilities to employee mental health.

That’s why she developed Blooming Minds – to not only inform leaders about their roles and responsibilities towards employee mental health, but to provide tools and supports that give practical steps for responding to mental health issues in their employees, themselves and their colleagues.

Tasha is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and Certified Expert Presenter (CEP), hold a Principal Master Trainer status from the MHFA Australia program and is currently completing a a PhD. She's combined her passion for mental health with her love of writing and has authored Bloom! Mental health and Wellbeing and Bloom! at Work, A mental health guide for leaders. Based in Perth, Tasha travels throughout Western Australia, Australia and internationally, delivering workplace mental health training for leaders.

https://bloomingminds.com.au/

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