How we can talk

The psyche is as much part of us as is the colour of our eyes or our taste in music – why not talk about it more often? If you do find yourself in a situation that negatively effects your psyche, you already deserve recognition for realizing it – and especially for wanting to change it. If it is the psyche of someone else that you are worried about, talking to her or him and listening can already help – with respect, understanding, and patience. When we start talking about how we feel we have already tackled the first and maybe biggest hurdle on our way to getting better. Unfortunately, it is still not as normalized as it should be to talk about our mental health and problems. So, let´s change this!

The right moment

The psyche is a sensitive topic. This is not due to any givens about the psyche being something to be ashamed of, or to not talk about in the public – on the contrary! – but we simply cannot know how the other person will react or feel about such a conversation. That’s why you should try talk in an environment in which both of you feel comfortable. You should both also bring a lot of time to this sort of conversation. This way you can thoroughly talk about everything that’s on your mind, as well as take the time you need to ask questions and think. After, you will both have the possibility to get some rest.

It is helpful to actually plan to meet for this talk. You can make sure to have enough time and to be ready to focus on what is important. In order to not overwhelm the other person, you can already tell him or her beforehand that you want to talk to them about something important. This might be difficult in that moment, but it helps you to ensure that the conversation is taking place in the right environment and under the right circumstances. For example, going to the movies together is not necessarily as good for a trusting conversation as meeting for a walk in the park.

If you’re worried about your own psychological wellbeing and you feel like you can’t talk to anyone, then you can also always call a service centre that specializes on this topic. However, many of us feel more comfortable talking to someone they know and trust at first. Friends and family members will definitely want to help you. You don’t have to be afraid of hurting or disappointing them as you tell them about your problems.

Wenn du dir Sorgen um eine nahestehende Person machst und versuchst, mit ihr zu reden, kann es auch passieren, dass sie das nicht möchte oder eine Verabredung immer wieder absagt. Das darf dich nicht kränken, denn es hat bestimmt nichts mit dir zu tun. Viele haben Angst vor dem Gespräch oder wissen einfach nicht, wie sie das Gespräch starten sollen. Da hilft es, geduldig zu sein und der Person das Gefühl zu geben, dass sie dir vertrauen kann und du helfen möchtest. Solltest du dir um eine Person Sorgen machen, an die du nicht mehr herankommst, kannst du auch eine Beratungsstelle kontaktieren und mit ihr herausfinden, wie ihr gemeinsam helfen könnt.

Think about the both of you!

Of one thing you can be sure: Talking about it does not make a psychological issue worse. But everyone who gets entrusted with these mental issues should also think about him or herself when offering help. It can burden you to hear of the psychological problems of your friends or family. It is important to only offer as much help as you can give. It is perfectly alright to feel overwhelmed during a conversation. It is already worth a lot that you try to help and listen. You might be the first person your friend or family member trusts enough to talk about something as intimate and sensitive as their psychological wellbeing – and for that alone you are already a great help. After these first talks, you can be a further support when it comes to taking the next steps. This way, you are both not alone and can search for professional help together.  

The right words

“I just don’t find the right words”! – a very common reason to why we don’t talk about our psychological wellbeing as often is that we don’t really know how. But this is completely normal and understandable, seeing that the subject is sensitive, and it might just be odd at first to talk about it in daily life. If you don’t know where to start a conversation about mental issues, it is best to be aware of a few things:

  • Try to free yourself of any stereotypes and prejudices. The person you are talking to is the same person you have always known. A psychological problem or disorder might change someone for a time, but it does not define the person.

  • You can only get help if you talk about what weighs on your mind and what worries you.

  • You can only give help if you sincerely listen and try to understand how the other person feels.

  • When you two reach a point that feels like a dead end, then you can look online for any professional contact points together. Not being alone while taking this step is a big help by itself.

  • We are oftentimes hesitant to talk about our metal issues. When you manage to make the first step, it can lead to a great relief in the other person. It shows your friend or family member that you care about them and that they can trust you. And the biggest obstacle is often already taken once the first conversation starts.

  • The most important thing is to treat each other with respect and trust. This way, you can talk about anything that’s on your mind – even something that you don’t understand about one another. To be there for each other is the biggest help that friends and family can offer. 

Talking about mental wellbeing and problems might be very different to the normal talks we have. That’s why there are a few sensitive things that seem perfectly fine and normal for regular small talk, which should nonetheless be avoided here.
Especially when it comes to the psyche, it is important to understand that each and every one of us experiences things completely different to anyone else. Well intended, but misleading tips on what to do can make the other person feeling misunderstood. It is equally unhelpful to try to downplay the problems the other person is experiencing, or to directly compare it to your own experience. Of course, you can say that you understand the problems the other is experiencing. But you should always remember: Problems feel differently for everyone. It doesn’t help the other person to turn the conversation and make it about you and how a seemingly similar problem played out for you. Of course, it is helpful to give tips based on your own experience – but that can wait for the next steps in which you two search for solutions.
This first talk should simply aim to make the other person feel better and confident that you will take the next steps together. To listen and to respond adequately is the best thing you can do at first.

When talking about mental problems, we all want to feel that we are taken seriously. This also means that we should all work towards giving our counterparts exactly that feeling of taking him or her seriously. Even if you can’t really follow everything that the other person is telling you, or if you don’t really understand how and why exactly your friend or family member feels the way she or he does, you should still be understanding and try to listen. It is equally important that you can say why you chose to speak to the person you are worried about. But you should try to not make it sound like you’re accusing her or him of something – even if you are in fact a little disappointed, sad, or overwhelmed. Have you ever heard of so-called “I-messages”? They are a tool to express your own feelings without criticising someone else. Even if you’re worried about someone that causes you to feel bad: You’re surely not angry at them or expect a justification, but firstly just want you two to talk about your feelings. That’s why it might help to think about how to express your feelings in these I-messages.

I realized that you don’t want to meet as often as we used to, and that makes me sad.

It weighs on me that you seem so down all the time, and I wish I could help you somehow.

I am overwhelmed because I don’t know how to understand your fears anymore. I’d like to talk about it, to better understand what burdens you and why.

I-messages don’t mean to evade the word “you”, but rather that you explain to your counterpart what feelings their behaviour triggers in you, and that you are in this situation together. Classic “You-messages” can be understood as criticism and may lead to you two drifting apart even further.

You stopped coming to any of our meetings, and you constantly cancel on us spontaneously. This really sucks!

You’re sad all the time. What’s the deal with it?

I feel neglected by you. (Same message as “You neglect me”.)

And after the talk?

It surely felt good to talk. But what to do next?
It’s completely normal to not solve every problem with a simple conversation. It may also be that you or the other person feels like it’s getting too much during your conversation – and that’s okay, too. You are talking about some difficult and emotional stuff, and you might be nervous or even start to cry. This can all be quite a lot to handle, which is why it is perfectly fine to take your time. You can plan to meet another time or think about getting professional help or calling somewhere more professional.
If you, as the helping person, feel overwhelmed with the situation, then you too can turn to these service centres. Don’t forget: You don’t have to find the perfect solution – that’s what professional support is for. And you shouldn’t see yourself as any kind of saviour either. You’re just there for a friend or a family member, and that alone is brilliant!
If you yourself are the one with the mental problem, then it is important to convey what’s on your mind: if you feel like you are able to take care of yourself for a little while, and that you can comfortably say goodbye for now and meet at a different time again, then say so. If you don’t feel able to make this promise, or if you think about hurting yourself or others in any way, then say so too, and definitely search for emergency help .

Something that is important too, is that you trust each other and don’t tell anyone else about what you have talked about – unless you both feel comfortable with this. If the things you talked about weighs on you, then it is best to get professional help and maybe call one of the mentioned service centers.

Let us now start by conveying you the good feeling you get from a good conversation:

Thanks for listening and reading so carefully!
We know that this info can be quite a lot. But maybe it helped you a little bit to stop being afraid of talking about mental health.