In a report, we found that one of the biggest challenges in society’s historical positioning of mental health as a medical illness, is around language. Talking about mental health as an ‘illness’ can prevent people accessing support early on as they believe they have to be medically ‘ill’ or have a serious problem to receive help. Over a third of Brits (37%) wouldn’t seek help for worrying their problem wasn’t serious enough, however it’s important to realise that mental health is more than the absence of mental ill health.
Viewing mental health in purely medical illness terms, can inadvertently create stigma and discrimination. We believe society should view mental health as something everyone has, that it exists as a continuum and like physical health, can be protected and enhanced, not just treated when problems occur. Like physical health, mental health can fluctuate in the absence of any diagnosed illness.
Our Emotional Wellbeing National Lead, Gosia Bowling, comments: “As a society we need to shift the conversation away from a medically-led model of mental illness, towards an experience-led, whole of person model that encourages people to think about the link between their life environment, physical and emotional health. This will facilitate conversations using language that everyone can relate to.”
Gosia provides top tips to help you start having conversations about mental health:
Learning to Listen
‘Active listening’ is a skill than anyone can practice. It involves giving the person talking your complete attention and concentrating fully on what is being said. You can help to open up a conversation by avoiding judgement, and validating feelings being expressed. Check your understanding by reflecting back what is being said to you. Avoid interruptions or giving advice based on your own experiences and be respectful of privacy.
Forget ‘fixing’ – Many people lack confidence in starting conversations about mental health, worrying they won’t know how to ‘fix’ the problem, Listening can be really powerful in itself. You don’t need to provide the solutions to what can sometimes be difficult or complex issues. Simply being there can make a huge difference. Signpost to help from a trained therapist or G.P to direct someone to professional help where it’s needed, or if you are worried about someone.
Checking in – If someone has opened up to you about their difficulties, you can be supportive by checking back in with them. You don’t need to ask lots of personal details, but can simply check for example how someone’s appointment with a GP, or conversation with their line manager went.
Tips for Talking
Getting past uncomfortable- It can be difficult talking about your mental health to begin with, especially if you have not done it before, but it can really help to open up. Start by talking to people that you trust and choose a method (text, phone, email, face to face) that you are most comfortable with to make a start. It can help to think about some concrete examples of how things are impacting you or how you are finding things difficult.
Environment – Sometimes it is easier to talk and listen whilst doing an activity, maybe a walk in the park, preparing a meal or even whilst stuck in traffic. Some people find it easier to talk, and listen, when side to side, not face to face. Think about what works best for you.
Think about the timing – It can be easier to start a conversation when you are feeling prepared rather than when you are feeling highly stressed or vulnerable. Choose a time when you are likely to have the most emotional energy available so that it is easier to explain yourself more clearly. Don’t however wait for the ‘perfect moment’, as these rarely happen. Choose a time that feels most natural for you.
Gosia continues: “At Nuffield Health we are trying to make mental health support more accessible. We have a number of online and face-to-face services available, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a clinically proven therapy effective in treating problems such as depression, anxiety, self-esteem, anger management, post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobias.