By Abbie Franklin a 1st Year Psychology NTU Student
Now, more than ever, it is extremely important to talk about our mental health. Lockdown has led to many people experiencing mental health issues, which makes it even more important to know how to start a conversation about mental health and how to be a good listener. By opening up, someone can help you see things more clearly and offer help and advice. They might not have all the answers, but just having someone who will listen is a relief. If you are struggling with your mental health, then this is nothing to be ashamed of and you shouldn’t hide it from others as this is what often causes it to get a lot worse. People suffering in silence is an ongoing problem, and it is mainly due to the stigma around having mental health problems. Therefore, we need to normalise the conversation about mental health, by educating ourselves and therefore avoiding misconceptions. It is vital to speak up when you’re struggling. After all, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
Having a conversation about mental health is important to normalise mental illness and stop the stigma. This conversation could be a general chat with your friends or if you are struggling yourself, then a conversation about how you need support. Either way, these steps help to create a future where mental health is less stigmatised, which would ultimately cause less people to suffer in silence. There has definitely been a huge improvement in people’s attitudes towards mental health over the past decade, but there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. Stigma still exists as there’s this idea that you are weak if you have mental health problem, however the truth is people who have a mental illness aren’t weak, in fact they are the strongest people out there as they have to battle an invisible illness every day of their life. The way to remove this misconception (and many more) is to educate ourselves. Mental health problems should be learnt about from a young age in school, to reduce the stigma and to make people aware that asking for help is the best thing to do if they feel they ever need to. Misconceptions are what cause people to stay silent, as they feel it’s best to avoid the stigma from those around them. However, the truth is the only way to end the stigma is to speak up and make others realise that mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of. Also, being educated on mental health makes it easier for people to open up and for people to be a good listener and provide good support for those who are struggling.
Starting the conversation is possibly the hardest part (but an extremely important thing to do), due to the overthinking about who’s best to talk to and how they will respond. When considering who you are going to talk to, the best person will be the one who you feel the most comfortable around and open up to the most in general. This could be a family member, or a friend. At the end of the day, anyone who cares about you will support you. Even if they don’t understand exactly what you are going through, they can still give you the relief of talking to someone, and a shoulder to cry on. To start the conversation, it would be best to make the person know that what you are going to say is really important to you and you need them to listen. It is also very important that you make sure you have a conversation in a place with no distractions and a time where no one has to rush off somewhere else. This will put less pressure on yourself and make you feel a lot more comfortable. A lot of people worry about opening up as they don’t know how the other person will respond. This is why everyone should learn about how to support someone and be a good listener. The main things a good listener does is being empathetic, not invalidating their feelings and asking if they can do anything to help. Being empathetic is all about showing that you understand and not showing them sympathy which is all about pitying them. The person opening up wants to feel understood and not felt sorry for. A good listener will never question the validity of anyone’s feelings. They will never say ‘you will grow out of it’ or ‘it will pass’. These phrases can make someone question the emotions they are actually feeling and encourage them to suffer in silence. Also, I always think that the most helpful thing you can do for someone is to ask them if you can do anything to help. The answer may be no, but the fact that they know you want to help means a lot to them. Both starting the conversation and being a good listener contribute to the reducing of stigma and stopping people from suffering in silence. Opening up about your mental health struggles is a really hard thing to do, but it can be easier if everyone is educated.
Ultimately, the importance of speaking up is about what you do after you have talked to someone about how you feel. Some people might not want to reach out for professional help and just want the guidance of their friends and family. However, some other people might want to reach out to their GP. Either way, the conversation about mental health puts people on the road to recovery. Sometimes, when you have a mental illness, it can be easy to forget what life is like without one. And, this can cause people to feel hopeless and not want to get help. However, if we remind people that by opening up they can feel hopeful again and that life can get easier with the right support then more people are going to be willing to reach out for help.
Please remember, that if you are struggling, there’s no shame in asking for help.
Here at NTU we offer Student Minds Look After Your Mate training. It’s free nationally recognised training and covers how to support a friend, how to look after your own mental health as well as where to signpost for support. If you’d like to join our next session on 27th January 1-3pm via Microsoft Teams or to ask about any other dates please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.
Support from NTU
Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
Struggling at Uni? Go to Student Minds
10 Keys to happiness