Why talking is so important for our mental health

Young African American mom hug disappointed sad teenage daughter, caressing and comforting her, black teen girl feel down, suffer from school problems, mommy or nanny embrace and support
Talking about our problems can make them seem less daunting. [Photo: Getty]

They say a problem shared is a problem halved.

Many of us feel lighter after “unloading” our concerns onto a loved one, with talking being particularly important among those battling mental-health issues.

“Talking is so very important for mental health as it can help us cope with life difficulties,” Dr Meg Arroll, psychologist for Healthspan, told Yahoo UK.

“Sharing our troubles is a healthy, adaptive coping mechanism that can protect against anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation.”

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In any given year, around a quarter of people in the UK experience a mental-health problem, according to Mind.

One in five suffer every year in the US, National Alliance on Mental Illness statistics show.

The NHS recognises the importance of opening up, recommending “talking therapies” for everything from anxiety and depression to stress and phobias.

Chatting to a friend, relative or GP is a good place to start.

Your doctor may refer you to a local psychological therapy service or self-help group.

Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, where you try and manage your problems by changing how you think, have been shown to help.

Some find it easier to open up to a stranger than a loved one.

Therapists give you space to talk, cry, shout or just sit with your own thoughts, in a non-judgemental environment, according to the NHS.

Patients in England can self-refer to psychological therapies here.

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The “stiff upper lip” mentality may leave some thinking opening up is a sign of “weakness”.

The Mental Health Foundation argues, however, it is “part of taking charge of your wellbeing”.

Just being listened to can make people feel supported and less alone.

Your honesty may then inspire the listener to do the same.

For those struggling to voice how they feel, the Mental Health Foundation recommends pondering “what does it feel like inside my head? what does it make me feel like doing?”.

“Talking about difficulties is a skill like any other, hence it will become easier over time - so be as kind and patient with yourself as you can,” Dr Arroll said.

A stylish group of friends on chatting while making their way to a bar together for some drinks.
Going for a "walk and talk" can be a good way to open up. [Photo: Getty]

How to start a conversation about mental health

Some may open up over a cup of tea, while others might find it easier if the conversation evolves more naturally.

If you suspect someone is struggling, ask them how they are while doing the washing up or out for a stroll.

“Try a ‘walk and talk’ with a friend,” Dr Arroll said.

“Being in the open air releases some of the tension and is much less confronting than sitting directly opposite someone.”

When asked how we are, it is almost second nature to answer “I’m fine”.

Follow it with “no, really, is everything okay?”, Time to Change recommends.

Let them know it is alright to open up by relaying any concerns you may have or times you have felt down, it adds.

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If you know they have been through a tough time lately, like a divorce or job loss, do not be afraid to bring it up.

Rather delving for details, ask “how are things now?” or “are you back at work?”.

You could also bring up any changes to their behaviour, like “you’ve seemed a bit quiet recently, is everything alright? I’m here if you want to talk”.

If someone opens up to you, ask questions like “how does that affect you?” and “what does it feel like?”, Time to Change recommends.

While it can be hard to watch a loved one go through a tough time, resist the urge to offer “quick fixes”, like a night out.

Try and also treat them the same as you always have and be patient throughout.

If they are not ready to open up, suggest doing fun things together.

You could also send them a text to let them know you care or offer to help with day-to-day tasks.