Find out how someone really is
Advice from Roberta Pomponio our Mental Health Lead
No one wants to feel like they’re being interrogated. But we can try and get a conversation started by asking a question or two. If they aren’t interested in talking, that’s OK too.
- How have you been?
“How are you?” is most used as a figure of speech. It tends to generate a pleasant reply like, “Fine, thanks for asking.”
If you really want to know how someone is doing, however, ask again later in the conversation. Cut through the small talk and show them that you really want to know about their well-being.
You might point out an observation like, “I notice you haven’t been going for your walks lately. Is everything OK?”
Or you might talk about a difficult experience the person has gone through by saying, “I’ve been meaning to ask, how have you been doing since your dog passed away?”
Give the other person time to respond without any interruptions. Be careful not to make any jokes as a way to ease the tension. Instead, show you can handle just sitting with the other person’s pain if they choose to share it.
- How’s your stress level lately?
Sometimes it’s easier to talk about an external force like stress rather than an internal problem like anxiety. So asking someone about their stress level may feel less threatening than outright asking about their mental state. Yet it could lead to a similar conversation about mental health.
- Have you been eating and sleeping?
Sometimes, people feel comfortable sharing tangible evidence that they’re in pain without actually saying they’re hurting. And quite often, sleep and appetite are impacted by mental health. So someone who is having a hard time might say, “I haven’t been hungry lately,” or “I haven’t slept for a whole week.”
The answers to those questions may give you an opening to talk more. Show empathy by acknowledging their pain, and make it clear that you want them to feel better.
You might say something like, “That must be really rough. Have you thought about talking to your doctor about that?”
- Is there anything you want to talk about?
Sometimes people need assurance that it’s OK to talk about tough subjects. Inviting them to do so can move the conversation move from superficial subjects to more meaningful topics.
If they aren’t interested in talking about anything, don’t pry, though. Just let them know you’re willing to listen if they ever do want to talk.
- Would you be willing to talk to someone?
Your loved one might be on the fence about talking to a therapist. Asking them if they’d consider professional help in a non-judgmental way could encourage them to do it. If they haven’t been thinking about it, mentioning therapy may at least open their mind to the idea. Asking this question might also show there’s no need to be embarrassed about seeing a therapist. If they show interest in getting help you could offer to help them schedule an appointment, or you might even offer to take them.
It can also be helpful to remind the person that they can talk to an online therapist. For many people, online therapy feels less intimidating than seeing a therapist face-to-face.
- What can I do for you?
I know we all want to help and we are very kind with people but please do not take anybody’s personal details just signpost them to any help may be available for example the 24/7 mental health crisis line which is open to anyone.
If anyone needs urgent support for their (or someone they know) mental health, please invite them to call CWP’s mental health helpline on 0800 145 6485 and their dedicated local staff will support them to access the help they need. The phone line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is open to people of all ages – including children and young people.
The phone line is now the first port of call for mental health help – it is operated by people in your local area who will know how best to support you. If you call NHS111 you may have to wait longer for help and will be re-directed to this local service – so call 0800 145 6485.
Please note, A&E and 999 are not the best places to get help for the majority of mental health problems – call 0800 145 6485 to be directed to the best local service to support you.
You should still call 999 or go to A&E if you have an immediate, life-threatening emergency requiring mental or physical health assistance.