AXA PPP healthcare's Health at Hand team

How to talk about mental health

Tips to help kick-start the conversation

16 January 2020

Whether it’s you who’s struggling with a mental health problem or someone you care about, talking about it can make a huge difference.

Time to Talk Day is an initiative to encourage everyone to be more open about mental health and help put an end to the stigma and discrimination that can prevent people from having life-changing conversations.

But how do you kick start a conversation like that?

Our Health at Hand team of nurses, midwives and pharmacists provide round-the-clock telephone support for AXA PPP healthcare members concerned about their or their family’s health. Each member of the team is professionally qualified in their field and specially trained to hold effective conversations about health matters. So we asked them for their top tips for talking about mental health.

Here’s what they suggest.

5 tips to help you talk about your mental health

1. Accept that you’re experiencing difficulties and that it’s OK to feel the way you do. Most of us struggle with our mental health at some point, or points, in our lives; it’s not uncommon and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Remember you’re not alone – whether it’s a member of your family, a friend, colleague, your GP or someone at the end of a helpline, support is available – you just need to reach out for it.

3. If someone asks how you’re doing it’s OK to be honest. Often when someone asks how we are, we automatically answer that we’re “well” or “fine”. But if they ask a second time, or if they express concern, you can take it they’re genuinely interested, not just making polite conversation, and that it’s OK to be honest about how you’re feeling.

4. If you find it difficult to open up about your thoughts and feelings, try talking while walking or sitting side by side. It sounds like such a small thing, but taking away eye contact can make it a lot easier to broach difficult subjects openly and honestly.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of talking about your mental health issues – far from being a sign of weakness, acknowledging to others that there’s a problem can be incredibly empowering, not to mention a huge relief. It’s also an important step towards accessing the help you need, whether that’s the support and understanding of a loved one, a reduced workload or time off to recuperate, or professional treatment. And it’s not just for your own benefit; talking openly about your mental health helps break down the stigma that can keep problems hidden and put an end to the silent suffering of others.

You can find more tips to help you talk about your mental health here:

Talking mental health guide – Headstrong
Friendship and mental health – Mental Health Foundation
How to talk to your GP about your mental health – Mental Health Foundation

And what if you’re OK but you’re worried that someone else you know is struggling?

5 tips to help someone open up about mental health

1. Ask twice. If you’re worried someone may be struggling, tell then your concerns and if, when you ask them how they’re doing, their first response is that they’re fine, ask again. Asking twice shows people you’re genuinely interested, not just making polite conversation, and that you’re ready and willing to help.

2. Be there for them – make sure they know you’re there to talk to if and when they need you.

3. Avoid pressuring someone to open up, but if they’re ready to talk, be ready to listen - without judgement or attempting to ‘fix’ them or offer up a solution. Providing a safe environment for someone to offload makes it easier for them to talk freely and frankly about their thoughts and feelings.

4. Suggest going for a walk – face-to-face conversations can feel intimidating, especially for someone who’s uncomfortable or unused to talking about their feelings. Walking or sitting side-by-side can be a better way to broach difficult subjects and enable them to talk openly.

5. If possible, encourage them to seek professional help from their GP or one of the many support services available. If they don’t want to, don’t force it; instead make them aware of the resources available and how to reach them, so they can do so in their own time if they choose to.

For more help supporting others with mental health problems try:

Helping others with mental health problems – NHS Every mind matters
How you can help - Rethink mental illness
5 ways to start a conversation about mental health – Time to Change

Further resources

Mental health centre – AXA PPP healthcare