Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide
Following the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka from the French Open, the community has rallied behind her to shine a spotlight on the way stigma, attitudes and judgement can impact someone experiencing a common mental health problem. How far is too far? How much pressure is too much pressure? And who is in the appropriate position to decide that for her?
The question I get asked majority of the time during a Mental Health First Aid course is “but Em, what do I say?!”…. “I don’t want to say the WRONG thing”….It’s a fair question. You’ve noticed that someone you work with, play sports with or care about seems off, withdrawn or unlike their usual self. It’s normal as human beings to want to jump in and solve their problems, but what if you say the wrong thing? Mental Health First Aid training teaches us that starting a conversation and approaching someone we are concerned about, can be instrumental in their confidence to seek professional help and we don’t even have to have all the answers!
Here are 5 practical tips on approaching someone you care about:
- Time and Place
It is so important when you are approaching someone you are concerned about, that you consider where and when you are having this conversation. Who can overhear the conversation or potentially walk in on you? Are you at work in the lunchroom? Are you in a busy, public space? It is best to find a comfortable and quiet spot to have this conversation, at a time when you both won’t be interrupted or distracted.
- Privacy and Confidentiality
I get asked in every course where the line sits between confidentiality and safety. At all times as a MHFAider, you should respect the privacy and confidentiality of the person you are speaking with unless there is a risk of harm to themselves or someone else.
- Active Listening
When you speak with someone you care about, it is important to set aside any judgements or stigma we may have regarding their situation or feelings. Put simply, it’s not about us, it’s about them. Ask the person how they are feeling, and how long they have been feeling that way so that you can gauge the duration and intensity of their feelings. Actively listen to what they are saying and make sure you are using positive verbal and non-verbal cues like nodding your head, maintaining eye contact, and reframing what they’ve told you to confirm you’ve understood.
- The question
As MHFAiders, you may be concerned that someone is considering suicide, and participants in past courses, have referred to this step as the ‘loaded question’. “Em, I am really worried, but I don’t want to push them over the edge”…. The best thing to do if you think someone is considering suicide, is to ask them directly. A common myth in the community is that asking someone about suicide, will encourage them to take their life however MHFA training educates us that asking directly actually shows the person that you care and are open to talking about their suicidal thoughts with them. Bottom line, if someone tells you they are having suicidal thoughts, it is important to connect them to professional support and never keep suicide a secret. Involve the person in who needs to be told and together, create a plan to keep them safe until they are able to access support.
- If they don’t want help
Sometimes when we start a conversation, it isn’t the best time, place or the person simply isn’t ready to talk yet. This is normal, and we shouldn’t force someone to talk until they are ready. Keep encouraging the person to speak to an appropriate person or professional, even if it isn’t you, and follow up with them regularly to let them know you care and are there when they are ready. If their symptoms become severe or there is a risk to themselves or someone else, it’s important that you seek professional assistance for them immediately, even if this is against their wishes.
So, where to from here?
As a community, it’s time to stand together and break down the stigma that mental health is a taboo subject and shouldn’t be discussed. It’s important to remember that we all have own experiences, journeys and perspectives on mental health and when it comes to someone we are concerned about, it’s okay to not be okay. If you are interested in learning more about supporting someone with a common health problem, want to increase your confidence in approaching someone you are concerned about, want to break down stigma in the community and learn the types of support available, Mental Health First Aid Training is for you. The course is based on guidelines developed through the expert consensus of people with lived experience of mental health problems and professionals and is developed and accredited through MHFA Australia.
Contact our team for more information on our upcoming MHFA courses, and learn the skills to make a difference and support the community. Workplace training is also available for organisations wishing to upskill their workforce and/or appoint MHFAiders within their business.
Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day: Lifeline 13 11 14; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800; MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78; Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Mental Health First Aid training is completed with an accredited MHFA Australia Instructor. To be ‘accredited’ means a MHFA course participant is accredited against the MHFA Australia guidelines. For more information about this training, please visit mhfa.com.au
Written By: Emma Meldrum – Accredited MHFA Instructor and Workplace Mental Health Trainer
Credit: MHFA Australia