Cover We spoke to Dr. Michael Eason from Lifespan Counselling for some tips on how best to approach talking about mental health with your friends and family. (Photo: Courtesy of Pexels)

With the pandemic exacerbating feelings of stress and anxiety, we find out the best ways to talk about how you're feeling and be there for your friends

You're not alone if you've been feeling more stressed or anxious in recent months. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, concerns over things like your health, your family and friends’ wellbeing, your job, income and feelings of loneliness due to social distancing are common, and can take their toll.

But by talking to others about their mental health––and your own––can help. As these conversations can be difficult to start up, we spoke to Dr. Michael Eason from Lifespan Counselling for some tips on how best to approach the subject with your friends and family.

See also: Researchers Explore How Coronavirus Affects Our Mental Health

1. Be Present

The best thing you can do is be present. Be in the moment and let them know that you care. Engage in conversation, but do not be invasive. Respect their boundaries. To initiate discussion, perhaps begin by sharing some of your own struggles or circumstances similar to their own.

In general, honesty leads to honesty, and being emotionally vulnerable allows the other person to feel more comfortable with vulnerability. 


2. Be Sensitive

Unfortunately, mental health is still an uncomfortable and highly stigmatised topic for many individuals. If you have a trusting and secure relationship with someone, then they will be more comfortable with opening up emotionally.

Be sensitive to both verbal and non-verbal cues when chatting about mental wellness, remaining mindful to back down and try again later if the person is clearly uncomfortable. 

See also: World Mental Health Day 2019: Four Lifestyle Changes Which Could Boost Your Mental Health

3. Avoid Cliches 

Avoid using cliches, such as “everything is going to be okay” or “you’ll feel better––time heals all wounds.” Such statements (while containing kernels of truth) only minimise a person’s pain and can make them feel misunderstood. It is much better to simply engage with a comforting silence and gently acknowledge someone’s worries.

Simply share and acknowledge their feelings, don't try to "fix" them. When appropriate, sometimes just a simple hug or other supportive physical touch can be very therapeutic and comforting.


4. Don't Lecture

When discussing mental wellness, it is best to engage in a conversation––not a lecture. Be present, let them know: “I’m here if you need to talk.” And then respect their boundaries if they choose not to talk.

Sometimes it is okay simply to help distract them temporarily and engage in pleasurable activities such as gaming, sports, movies, self-care, etc. 

See also: Mental Health Experts Tell Us How To Cope With Anxiety Amid COVID-19

5. Let Them Know You Care

Let them know that you care, but do not force the issue. To approach the subjects you could say something like: "You seem to have a bit less energy than usual, is there anything on your mind?"

Even if your friend or family member does not want to talk about it, they will feel validated just having had their struggles acknowledged. 

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