It’s only natural that you want to be a good friend to someone you care about. If you’re concerned about someone it can be difficult to know how to talk to them about their mental health. You may be worried that you don’t know what to say, might say the wrong things, or, that you might upset them by bringing it up.

Follow our TALKS technique to help you to start a conversation.

Take notice
Is your friend, relative or colleague acting differently? Remember that some people can try to cover the signs that they’re strugling but it might just seem that something’s not right. It could be that there’s no obvious reason why or they could be going through a difficult or stressful life event such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, money or work worries, for example.

Approach and start a conversation
You don’t need to know whether someone has sought help or had any kind of diagnosis to ask them how they’re feeling. Don’t be worried that you will need to have all the answers, or, that you will need to know how to ‘fix’ whatever is wrong. Make sure you have time to chat and start with How are you doing? or How are things going? Sometimes people say they’re alright at first when they’re not – so you may need to gently coach them to open up. Let them know that it’s ok to talk and you’re there to listen. Ask open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’) that will help them to keep talking.

Listen without judgement
It can be hard to talk about your mental health. It can make you feel exposed and vulnerable and your friend or relative may need to talk about difficult issues that are affecting them. It’s very important to listen without judgement or criticism. Just showing you care and giving someone the space to talk about their feelings can be a huge help.

Keep listening and give gentle encouragement to let them talk
Don’t dismiss what they’re telling you, suggest that you know how they’re feeling or tell them how lucky they are really. If you’re concerned that they’re having thoughts of suicide it’s best to ask; talking about it makes it less likely to happen.

Suggest help and signpost
It can be difficult to take the first step to get help. You could suggest they talk to a doctor (GP) and let them know that there’s a mental health website for people in Leeds called MindWell which has helpful information

• Self-help: you could discuss what might help, such as having a sleep routine, taking. regular exercise, drinking less alcohol and trying some relaxation techniques, for example.
• Support and services in Leeds: offer to look at the website together if that would help.

Stay in touch
Don’t worry that you don’t have all the answers. It’s important to acknowledge that there will be limits to the help you can offer. Showing that you care is the most important thing. Drop them a text, arrange a time to chat or a social outing. You could also offer to go along to a GP or wellbeing appointment with them for moral support. If they don’t respond to your messages or calls or cancel meetings – keep letting them know you’re there for them.

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