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This Mental Health Awareness week, know that mental health help can come in many forms – support from a friend, advice from your GP, or even finding the strength to reach out in the first place.
Over the past decade, the way we talk about mental health has shifted massively. Reaching out for mental health help is now actively encouraged, with celebrities like Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama opening up about everything from suicidal thoughts, to low-grade depression.
The stigma, though not wholly gone, is slowly diminishing.
And yet, for every person who feels able to open up about their mental health, there is another who doesn’t know where to start. While you know that telling a friend, talking to your GP, or letting your boss know will likely help the situation, for many, it can be far easier said than done.
“One of the key hurdles, when you’re struggling with your mental health, is figuring out how to talk to others about it,” says Jo Loughran, mental health expert and director of . “Whether it be with their GP, their best friend, husband, wife, or colleague.”
We’ve bought you guides to online therapy, how to manifest, and how to identify conditions like PTSD and trauma. Next up: eight tips to help you get the mental health help that you may need. Sure, asking for help or admitting you are struggling may feel terrifying, to begin with, but we’ve got the expert advice you may need to make it that little bit easier. (Don’t miss our round up of the best mental health apps, while you’re here).
Mental health help: 8 tips for getting the right help
1. Rely on the right resources
If you’re experiencing mental health problems or need urgent support, know this: there are lots of places you can go to for help.
Samaritans (samaritans.org) provides confidential, non-judgemental emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those that could lead to suicide. You can phone, email, write a letter, or in most cases talk to someone face to face. Phone 116 123 (24 hours a day, free to call) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SHOUT (giveusashout.org) is the UK’s first 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and you need immediate help. Text: 85258
Or similarly, the Mind Infoline: (mind.org.uk) gives confidential information on types of mental health problems, where to get help, drug treatments, alternative therapies and advocacy. Mind works in partnership with around 140 local Minds providing local mental health services. Call 0300 123 3393 (9am-6pm Monday to Friday) or text 86463. Email: email@example.com
2. Talk to a doctor
There are a whole load of mental health conditions, ranging from the subtle, like low-grade depression and daily anxiety (learn the difference between stress vs anxiety, here), to the more severe, like bipolar and schizophrenia. If, for whatever reason, your mental health isn’t great, going to your doctor is an important first step in getting the help you need.
However, that doesn’t stop it from feeling daunting. Even if we know it’s the right thing to do, the thought of trying to articulate everything you’re feeling to an overworked doctor in a five-minute appointment can be a daunting prospect.
There are things you can do to make it easier. Firstly, if you’re worried about having to rush through how you’re feeling, you can request a double appointment. “That can help take the pressure off both you and the GP,” advises Loughran. If you don’t feel your scheduled GP is the right person to talk to – perhaps you’d prefer to confide in a female doctor, you are entitled to request a different one. Some surgeries have a dedicated practitioner who specialises in mental health so it’s worth double-checking.
It’s also useful to go prepared, says Loughran. “When we’re feeling nervous, our mind can go blank. If you’re worried you’ll get there and won’t know what to say write some things down.”
“What you’re trying to do is to get across what life is feeling like, what your symptoms are, and how long you’ve been feeling this way. It’s important to try and be as open and honest as you can.”
3. Know it’s ok to cry
Hear this: crying is totally normal and a way of expressing your emotion. Don’t hold it in – cry when and as you need to.
“When I spoke to my GP about it for the first time, I just went with tissues and started crying,” shares Loughran. “That was the opener and we started from that point.”
4. Know that a problem shared is a problem halved
Sure, it’s super daunting, but opening up to someone you trust about your mental health can be an incredibly powerful thing to do.
“It’s like this massive weight off your shoulders when you’re able to actually say to somebody openly and honestly: ‘I’m really really struggling at the moment,’”explains Loughran.
She says to think carefully about who you confide in. “For me, that all comes down to is who do you feel you can trust with something that’s a fundamental part of who you are and what you’re experiencing? Who has demonstrated they’re open to the topic of talking about mental health and will treat what you’re telling them with respect?”
Don’t feel like you have to make it an intense sit-down conversation. It can be easier to talk when you’re side by side, rather than face to face – like when you’re stuck in traffic or taking a walk. “We did some research with young people about when they would be most likely to talk about mental health and a distraction activity, when you’re doing everyday things, is helpful both for the person speaking and also the person listening.”
5. Open up – but don’t be daunted
Another myth is that you need to chat for hours. “Sometimes it’s sufficient to just have landed the topic, and then you can come back to it,” says Loughran. “Once you’ve opened the door a crack it’s much easier to push that open when you’re both ready to have the conversation.”
When mental health pops up in the news or in popular culture – like when Meghan Markle opened up about feeling suicidal or Hayley Bieber shared how she helped depressed boyfriend Justin Bieber heal – it can be a good opportunity to start talking. “You can say: ‘you know, I’ve been feeling a bit like that, too.’”
People who care about you will want to help – but don’t be afraid to say you don’t need advice, Loughran advises. “By saying, ‘It’s just really helpful for you to hear and to listen’, you’re guiding the the focus of the conversation.”
6. Discuss with your manager
Did you know? Mental health is a leading cause of sickness absence and employers are increasingly getting their act together and being proactive in how they can help tackle it. It can feel especially scary to open up about how you’re feeling at work but —if it gets to a stage where you’re really struggling or your performance is affected —it’s better that your employer knows there’s a good reason for it. Your employer has a , which means they must do all they reasonably can to support your health and wellbeing.
“The best person to talk to initially is your line manager,” says Professor Cary Cooper, author of and Professor of Organisational Psychology at the Alliance Manchester Business School. “However, that boss has to be a person that you feel you can talk to. If your boss is not a good listener, or you know that he or she is not a very tolerant person and won’t listen to you then think about going to HR instead.”
Any conversation you have with HR is confidential by law – but if you’re speaking with your line manager instead then make it clear if you don’t want anyone else to know. It’s up to you to give as much or as little detail as you want – there’s no obligation to reveal more than you’re comfortable with.
However, Dr Cooper says it can be helpful to be honest and open. “I think it’s very worthwhile telling them what’s going on in your life. Think through what would help you in the context of work,” says Cooper.
7. Solutions, not problems
While it might seem hard to see a way out of bad bouts of mental health sometimes, going to your boss with a solution, rather than a problem, will help them to enable it to happen.
For example, going into the conversation with an idea of what support you need – whether that be time off for counselling appointments, more flexible hours, or negotiating a day working from home – means it’s more likely to happen.
8. Know that you’re not alone
And finally, know this: if your mental health is affecting your day-to-day right now, you are far from alone, and help is out there.
Approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and the best way to get mental health help is to reach out. You will heal – trust us.