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5 small conversation starters to open up talk about mental health

This Time to Talk Day the theme is ‘the power of small’ – reinforcing the fact that even the smallest conversation about mental health can make a big difference to someone who is struggling. But it doesn’t stop there.

More small conversations about mental health can also help us to tackle stigma, which we must continue to do to bust myths and stop people from feeling afraid or ashamed. 

5 small Mental Health conversation starters

So, here are CHAMPS’ 5 small conversation starters to help you start a discussion with a colleague, friend or family member about mental health.

  1. How are you?
    This might seem obvious – but remember we said these are conversation starters. The way to use this question effectively is by delving a little deeper. If you’re met with a standard ‘I’m fine’ it might be worth checking – ‘are you really fine?’ People sometimes feel they need to say they’re fine because that’s what you want to hear. But by double checking, you’re making it obvious that you really are enquiring and you really do care how they are.
  1. Fancy joining me for a cuppa?
    Again, this is a pretty obvious one, but the point here isn’t the cup of tea. The point here is taking the time out to have a cuppa together. Leaving your desk and enjoying a cuppa in the kitchen (or virtually via zoom) creates space for non-work conversations to flow. When you ask someone if they fancy joining you for a cuppa – what you’re really asking is, do you fancy a natter. And that’s a great way to get the conversation going.
  1. You seem stressed / sad – is everything OK?
    This demonstrates that you’ve noticed that your friend or colleague doesn’t seem their usual chirpy self. It shows that you’re taking an interest and keen to see how they are coping. You’re inviting them to tell you that they might not be OK – and that opens the door for our next conversation starter…
  1. Can I do anything to help?
    Sometimes, people just want to be able to offload about how they’re feeling or what they’re dealing with. That in its own right can take the weight off sometimes. But other times, there may be ways in which you can help take the pressure off. For example, if you’re a colleague at work, could you offer to help with their most urgent tasks? If you’re a manager, you could ask if they want to work flexi hours to support their work/life balance? You don’t need to find the solution or fix the problem, but sometimes, just being there to share the load and offering little nuggets of support can make all the difference.
  1. How are you finding lockdown?
    We can’t ignore the fact that, while we understand the need for lockdown measures to keep us safe and well, some people will be struggling more than others with challenges such as loneliness or isolation. You can always elaborate on this question as well by sharing something that you’ve found challenging. Has your motivation been affected? Are you experiencing Zoom fatigue? Sharing your experiences might encourage your friend or colleague to open up about theirs too. And once you know how they’re really coping, you can be mindful to check in more often, limit virtual meetings or encourage walk and talk one-to-ones.

Moving beyond conversation starters for Mental Health

If, through any of these conversation starters, you discover that your colleague or friend is struggling with a mental health problem such as depression, an anxiety disorder or other mental health problem, don’t worry that you need to understand the illness to talk about it. 

Ask them how they’re coping, if they’ve got support and if there’s anything you can do to help. If you’re worried that they don’t have professional support, signpost to your organisation’s occupational health team or gently suggest putting a call in to their GP. 

Importantly, show empathy and don’t judge – mental health problems affect 1 in 4 of us, so we need to help people feel less ashamed and able to open up about what they’re experiencing..

If you have any immediate concerns about your friend or colleague, speak to your organisation’s Mental Health First Aider. They are trained in how to signpost to help when somebody is at crisis point. 

We hope that this gives you some inspiration for how to check in on someone today. It might only take five minutes of your day, but it could make the world of difference to your friend.

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