Time to Talk Day had a theme this year! The theme was ‘Ingredients’… talking about what ingredients are needed in order to have a good conversation about mental health. This theme got me thinking about my ideal setting for a good conversation, where have I had some of my best chats? What was involved? What would have been better? These are things that we rarely take into account, although they really do matter!
I personally hate sitting in a silent room as it makes pauses in the conversation feel awkward to me, especially if I am talking with someone who I do not know very well. So for me, I enjoy coffee shop conversations as there is always background noise and things going on around you, but not the type of noise that would be distracting or overbearing. I also find coffee shops to have quite a relaxed atmosphere to them; sitting down with a nice hot drink and a cake whilst engaging in a pleasant conversation and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Over the years I have spent many hours sitting in coffee shops, either on my own doing work or with a friend having a catch-up, and there is nothing I enjoy more.
When it comes to talking about mental health, starting the conversation may be a little bit difficult, especially when talking to someone who does not fully understand mental health. Not knowing how people are going to react, whether they will be understanding, whether they will ask a million questions, or whether they will dismiss the topic completely. But you never know unless you try.
I have had so many conversations with people about mental health, both my own experiences, their experiences or just a general chat about mental health conditions and services that are available. Some have gone better than others; sometimes the person leaves with a better understanding of mental health, sometimes they feel as though a weight has been lifted and are grateful that someone cared enough to just sit and listen to what they had to say, some turn into friendly debates about certain topics surrounding mental health… but all of these conversations were equally valuable.
You learn different things from different conversations, positive or negative. Someone may be experiencing the same condition as you but their journey may be very different from your own. Their symptoms may be slightly different, their treatment plan could be different, they may be able to give you advice that you have not heard before and vice versa. Someone may not understand mental health at all and may portray a negative view on the matter, but you hear them out… they tell you what they think, you challenge their views, they question your knowledge; you are both left thinking about other possibilities, or maybe you manage to give them a better, more personal insight into mental health, maybe not changing their opinions completely but putting a dent on them. Every conversation matters.
Good conversations can take place in many different ways:
Maybe you like coffee dates like myself, or maybe you prefer to sit somewhere more isolated and quiet, the comfort of your own home for example? Maybe there is a bottle of wine and a group of friends involved in the conversation! Maybe you prefer the outdoors, going for a walk or having a picnic whilst chatting away to a relative. Maybe your conversation takes place in work during your lunch hour? Whatever you enjoy, wherever you feel more comfortable, is perfect! So have that important conversation, share experiences, share your opinions, give advice, share statistics, talk about studies and what is happening in the news with mental health! However you start the conversation, make it count.
Together we can break down the stigma around mental health.