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8 top tips for facilitating a mental health conversation...

1. Don't wait for the perfect moment

It doesn't exist. Don't wait until you're both sat down, in good moods and there's nothing else going on in your lives, in order to talk. It's just not going to happen. You can have a conversation when there are other things going on. You can talk in the car or in a café. So don't wait for the perfect moment because you'll be waiting forever.

2. Ask twice

We're often asked, ‘how are you?’ And our response is usually something like, ‘yeah, fine, good thanks.’ So, we need to ask again, ‘how are you really?’ ‘How is everything really?’ ‘Are you really ok?’ That will prompt a more honest response.

3. Don't try to fix it

This is a really common temptation for people. It's very difficult to sit with somebody's distress or their discomfort and what we want to do is offer solutions. We want to make it go away, want to make them feel better. But often that can lead to people feeling dismissed. Just sit in the discomfort with them and listen.

4. Keep the conversation going

If somebody is talking about how they're feeling and they come to the end of a sentence, encourage them to keep talking. You can say things like, ‘go on’, ‘I'm listening’, ‘tell me more.’ Keep eye contact, nod – let them know you’re wanting to hear more. That's going to encourage them to talk more rather than feeling like it's time to stop.

5. Acknowledge the elephant in the room

If you know nobody has been struggling recently then ask them how they are. Be direct – ‘how are you at the moment?’ ‘How have things been recently’ ‘I know you were struggling with anxiety, how are you?’. Perhaps they've been signed off work - are they back at work now? Don't pretend like it hasn't happened. If somebody has lost someone, don't be afraid to ask how they're feeling, don't be afraid to mention the person's name.

6. Do some research

Look up which services or what support might be available to someone who is struggling. A good place to start is talking to their GP. But there are many websites, forums, helplines and professionals out there who can help with different things and in different way. So do a bit of research - show them that you're interested, that you want to help and take a little of the burden from them.

7. The conversation doesn't have to be face to face

If you or the other person finds it easier to message or to email, then you can do that. If you usually chat to somebody on WhatsApp, then check-in with them on WhatsApp. All of the other tips still apply to these conversations, but you can do them in other ways.

8. Be patient

You cannot force somebody to open up and they may not feel that they want to. Or maybe they’re not quite ready yet. But by asking them how they are, by demonstrating to them that you are there to talk can make it easier for them to come to you in the future.

Suzie Booth

Counsellor MBACP.

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