Tips on how to initiate a conversation

If you are concerned about a workmate, friend of family members mental health, keeping the lines of communication open is an important way of keeping them connected to you, even at the most challenging of times. But, starting this conversation about mental health can be tricky. Having that initial conversation may not meet all of your expectations and resolve everything, but it can be critical in setting the scene for further, ongoing conversations in which you are considered a trusted confidant. Here are some tips to getting started:

  • Gather information to make sure you understand what mental ill-health is, and some of the symptoms and treatments available. Relate this information to what you are observing in your loved one, and see whether it applies to their situation. Have a clear idea of what it is that concerns you about their mental health.
  • Arrange a suitable time to talk where you will have some privacy and won’t be interrupted. You might have to do this in a location that they will feel comfortable in, rather than expecting them to come to where you feel comfortable. For some people, talking whilst looking into each other’s faces can feel very confronting, so think about whether you can walk and talk, talk whilst you are driving, or sit side-by side.
  • Only start the conversation with someone when they are not currently under the influence of drugs. If this is difficult, try to pick a time when they seem less intoxicated than others (for example, in the morning). Try to avoid starting conversations when they are on their way out of the house.
  • It is OK to ask directly about their mental health; but don’t make assumptions. Use this as an opportunity to find out what it’s like in their life. Aim to make the conversation relaxed and give the person a chance to express their views. A good way to start is with something like:

I’ve noticed a few changes in you lately, and I’m a bit worried that you aren’t all that happy…what’s going on in your life at the moment?”, or

How are your friends going? …I haven’t seen them in a while”, or

I haven’t heard you talking much about your sport at the moment…how’s that going?

Have some specific examples ready that demonstrate the behaviours/issues that you are worried about, in case you get a “like what?” in response. Choose examples that also demonstrate your suspicions about their mental health.

  • Don’t tell them what to do and try not to be judgemental. When people are having a hard time, the last thing they need is a lecture.
  • Be sure to listen and express your concerns in a supportive and non-confrontational manner.
  • Remain aware of the type of language you are using. Don’t label the person an “schizo” or other negative terms as this is only going to make them feel worse and less likely to open up to you.
  • Try to use statements which include “I” as this doesn’t put the blame on them. Instead of saying “You make me feel worried about your mental health” say something like “I feel worried about your mental health”.
  • Let them know you care about them. People will be more likely to listen and take advice on board if they feel valued and respected.
  • Be trustworthy and supportive so they know that they can rely on you in a time of need. Make sure they know your conversation will be kept confidential, and that you are there to talk to again at any time.
  • Reinforce that there is effective help available to help people overcome mental ill-health, and that you will support them to find and access the right services when they are ready.
  • Let them know you are available to talk in the future. Adjust any expectation that this first conversation will cover all of the above points, or give you the opportunity to air all of your concerns. This first conversation can serve as an important first step in an ongoing conversation about mental health, and it is important to make sure the person knows that you are keeping the door open for future discussions. Ask “permission” to check in with the person again in a week, or a fortnight, etc., to see how they are going.
  • Recovery is often a long and difficult process. It would be unreasonable to expect changes to the person’s behaviour straight away. However, you have taken the important first step by starting a conversation with them.

Supporting a loved one can be extremely challenging, and it is important to look after yourself too.

  • Remember you can’t fix the person.
  • Take time out for your own needs and activities.

Attend local education events in your community to increase your knowledge about ice and get support.