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Advice from Our Crisis Supporters

30 JUN 2021

Sometimes, it can be difficult to initiate conversations about mental health. Fear of not wanting to say the wrong thing or cause more harm are key reasons for people not wanting to open up a conversation with someone and ask; “Are you OK?”. However, research tells us that at some point in our lives, 45% of us will experience poor mental health. It’s a common condition that needs the space and respect to discuss freely. By opening up discussions around mental health and wellbeing, we can learn to better support each other and respond to the needs of those in our lives. 

How to ask: 

The environment is important.  Find somewhere suitable to have the conversation, away from other people and distractions. Lifeline WA Crisis supporter Adrian suggests going for a walk or grabbing a cup of coffee. If there’s children around, try and make a time when they’re at school or having a nap. Give the conversation space, free from distractions. 

To start the conversation, try and frame the context. You can try using ‘I’ statements to talk about a time when you were struggling. Opening up the conversation like this can help to reduce any embarrassment or shame the person may be experiencing. In the context of unemployment, you may say something like: “I was made redundant a few years ago, I really struggled financially, and things were really stressful at home, how are you doing?”  

Listen 

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to solve or fix any problems. You are there for support. As a telephone Crisis Supporter with Lifeline WA, Pauline says that listening without judgement, is one of the most important skills she uses for any caller. People who are struggling want to be heard.  “Listen to learn, not to respond” says Pauline.  

Resist the urge to give your opinion or offer unwanted advice, this can actually cause more stress to the person you’re talking to. Instead, encourage them to do the talking. Pauline adds: “It is important to acknowledge the stress and validate the person’s feelings. This is what helps the person to feel heard.” The website ‘R U OK?’, offers some suggestions to do this and keep the conversation flowing: 

  • It sounds like that would be really tough. How are you managing?  
  • Have you been feeling this way for a while? 
  • What you’re going through isn’t easy, it’s good we can talk about it. 

If required, brainstorm together 

The power of talking and listening should not be underestimated. Often, feeling heard and supported is enough to help someone feel a little better. Talking things through can relieve the pressure that builds up from holding things inside. Talking can also help people feel less alone in what they are going through because they’ve had an opportunity to share it with someone else. Lastly, it may also help the talker see a different perspective on their situation.  

However, there are times when they may need to find a professional to talk to. Try and do this together, so you can avoid ‘advice giving’.  A visit to a trusted GP can be a good place to start. Offering to make the appointment together can help them feel supported. Employee assistance programs (EAP’s) are a great resource to access if you’re at work, or you can call Lifeline together on 13 11 14. 

Remember you can also call Lifeline if you are worried about someone you love.  

For more information and resources on how to have these conversations, please see: 

Written by Rochelle Allison-Moore and Karen McGlynn