SOMETIMES we say we’re fine when we’re not, so if your friend is acting differently, ask twice. But what if you ask twice and they open up? You don’t know anything about mental health! Don’t worry – you don’t have to be an expert to open up about mental health. You can follow these five simple steps:

1. Take it seriously

It can feel embarrassing and exposing to talk about your thoughts and feelings, especially if they’re disturbing. Don’t laugh or treat it like a joke. However strange it might seem to you, remember it’s real to them.

2. Listen and reflect

You don’t have to have all the answers – just listening can make a big difference. Try and show that you’re taking on board what they’re saying. You can do this by reflecting – that is, saying something simple like “that sounds really difficult”. You could also say something like “thanks for telling me”, to show that you appreciate having the conversation.

3. Ask questions

We worry about prying when it comes to others’ mental health, but it’s better to ask questions. It can help them to get things off their chest, and by keeping the conversation going it shows that you care. Some of the questions you might ask: “What does it feel like?” “What kind of thoughts are you having?” “How can I help?”

4. Don’t try and fix it

It is human nature to want to fix things, but expecting things to change right away isn’t helpful. It’s not your job to make their mental health problem go away – it’s often more helpful just to listen, ask open questions and do things you’d normally do together.

5. Build your knowledge

You might find it helpful to learn a bit more about what they’re going through.

If they mention a specific diagnosis, you could learn more about it and read personal stories by people who have experienced similar things. You might want to learn about the professional help that’s available to them and suggest that they explore those options.

Myths and facts

THERE are many different myths about mental health problems and they often contribute to the stigma that many people still face. It’s so important that we challenge these myths so we can understand the real facts around a mental illness.

1. Myth – Mental health problems are rare. Fact – One in four people will experience a mental health problem, which means someone you know may be struggling with mental illness.

2. Myth – I can’t do anything to support someone with a mental health problem. Fact - There are lots of things you can do to make a difference to their life: Check in; listen and don’t judge; treat them in the same way; ask twice.

3. Myth – People with mental illness aren’t able to work. Fact – People with a mental illness can hold down a successful job. We all probably work with someone experiencing a mental health problem.

4. Myth – You can’t recover from mental health problems. Fact - They might not go away forever but lots of people with mental health problems still work, have families and lead full lives. Many people also recover fully.

5. Myth – People with mental illness are usually violent and unpredictable. Fact - Most people with mental health problems, even those with severe ones like schizophrenia, are not violent. Someone with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violence than inflict it.

6. Myth - Young people just go through ups and downs as part of puberty – it’s nothing. Fact – One in eight young people will experience a mental health problem.

Coronavirus and mental health: supporting someone during Covid-19

CHECKING in on your family, friends and colleagues is always important. However, during the coronavirus outbreak this will be more important than ever. While we may be seeing an easing of restrictions and a move towards a normalisation of our lives, we still have some way to go.

Some of your friends or family could be finding the going tough, especially as the lockdown or restrictions persist. Talking has never been more important.

Lots of us are still feeling worried about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. While the focus is often on physical health, it’s important to remember the impact on our mental health too. You don’t need to be an expert on mental health to be there for someone. Think about using our three top tips:

1) Check in

You might not be able to meet face-to-face, but picking up the telephone, having a video call, starting a group chat or messaging someone on social media lets them know you are there to talk and ready to listen.

2) Listen and reflect

Whether you have a mental health problem or not, this will be a challenging time for our mental health and wellbeing. If someone opens up to you, remember that you don’t need to fix things or offer advice. Often just listening, and showing you take them seriously, can help someone to manage.

3) Ask questions

Ask how people are managing, and ask again if you’re worried they aren’t sharing the full picture. Asking again, with interest, can help someone to open up and explore what they’re feeling.

It is also possible that you can do something practical for someone – get groceries, deliver a newspaper, pop in with a treat – all the time observing social-distance rules. Sit in a garden and have a cup of tea or coffee. You will never know how important that can be and how uplifting it can be for the recipient.