Despite much efforts over the last few years to de-stigmatise mental health problems, most of us still don’t want to talk about our mental health.
And the sad truth is that you are probably right.
As well-meaning as friends and family are, they just do not have the skills when it comes to handling this type of conversation. And while we are all being encouraged to open up more and more about our mental health, little thought has been given to educating people in how to respond when the subject is brought up.
And in the absence of saying the right thing most people settle for just saying something. And that something can make the sufferer wish they had never brought it up in the first place!
- Do be grateful that they are opening up to you. For most sufferers it is difficult to speak about their anxiety or depression and they will probably have felt anxious about raising the issue with you, so acknowledge that by saying “I can only imagine how difficult it is to discuss this”
- Don’t offer them a solution. A lot of people think that they are helping when they say things like; “do you know what you should do, you should meditate, do yoga, take up jogging”, They don’t want your advice, they want you to understand what they are going through.
- Do ask questions. The more questions that you ask the more that they feel that you want to understand them. Ask them how long they have felt this way or if there is anything that makes it better or worse.
- Don’t attempt to help them by telling them that they are overreacting and that they really shouldn’t be depressed or anxious about the things that they are depressed or anxious about. This will cause them to regret opening up to you in the first place and make it more difficult for them to open up to anyone else in the future as well as possibly increasing their depression or anxiety further.
- Do be there for them no and ask them what you can do to help.
- Don’t compare what they are going through to someone else by saying something like; “my friend had anxiety and she took medication and she’s fine now”. Everyone’s anxiety is different, comparing what they are going through to what someone else went through just sends the message that you don’t really understand how they are feeling.
- Do suggest that you could do some research for them and make an appointment for them with someone who can help. At least half of the appointments that are made with me are made by family members or friends.