Diet and exercise play an important part in a healthy lifestyle.

We purchase the latest magazine containing healthy recipes and sign up for a membership at the local gym. We share our experiences with friends stating how quinoia can be used to make our new favorite dish or how our body aches from participating in yoga three days a week. The conversations are simple and carefree.

So why then is it so hard to have conversations about our mental health? Just like diet and exercise, our mental health is essential to our overall health and wellbeing. Mental illnesses are common and treatable. While one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges that can impact their mental health. Everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on the mental health of people of all ages. Now, more than ever, it is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles that commonly prevent individuals from seeking help. It is time to reach out — to start having the conversations. It is time to remove the stigma associated with our mental health & wellness.

It is tough to talk about things that scare us or that we don’t know anything about. We all have that fear of the unknown. However, just as I do not need to be a professional chef to try a new recipe or a yoga instructor to participate in a yoga class, I do not need to be a mental health professional to start the conversation. There are simple things that every one of us can say or do to help the people in our lives who are struggling to get through the tough times.

Start with active listening

This is different than just hearing what a person has to say. Give your complete attention to the person who is talking and ask open-ended questions, such as “how did that make you feel?” This will give you more details about the topic that is being discussed.

Don’t compare

If a friend or loved-one is going through a tough situation and they come to you for support, be careful not to compare what they are going through to similar experiences in your life. Focus on what you did to cope with your emotions during a rough time in your life and offer suggestions based on your experience.

Ask what you can do

It can be tempting to assume what would be helpful to someone who is struggling, but it is always better to ask them what they need from you. If you get a response like, “nothing, I’m fine,” offer up a few suggestions for things you would be willing to do, without being pushy. Offer to cook them a meal, or come sit with them and watch a movie.

Keep your word

If you have offered your support to someone and told them you would do something, keep your word. When a person is struggling, the last thing they need is to feel abandoned by someone else.

Don’t judge

To be truly supportive of someone, you need to put your personal opinions and biases aside. They may be struggling because of a mistake that they made, or you may think that they are overreacting, but you will never know what it is truly like to be that person in this moment.

Offer to join them

When someone is going through a time of sadness or uncertainty, their emotions can take over and leave them feeling paralyzed and unable to take care of life’s obligations. Offering to go with someone to help them take care of responsibilities like walking the dog or going to the grocery store can help them feel a sense of accomplishment and lift their spirits.

Finally, know when more serious help is needed. Sometimes the support you can offer won’t be enough. If you notice that your friend or loved-one continues to struggle, they may be showing signs of a mental health condition and may need professional help.

Don’t be afraid to encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional and offer to help them find a provider if needed. If someone you care about is in immediate danger of taking suicidal action, seek help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

I challenge you to reach out and start having these conversations. By having more conversations about mental health, we will become more comfortable talking about the subject. And, as we get more comfortable with the topic, the stigma surrounding mental health will begin to diminish.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our mental health as a nation. Use this as a stepping stone to reach out to those around you. If 20 percent of the population has suffered from a mental illness at some point in their life, chances are high that you know one or more of those individuals.

Source: Mental Health America.

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