Adulting is hard. Adulting with all the pressures that come with university is harder. Study. Assignments. More study. Exams. Great highs and breakdowns. The excitement of moving to a new city, then coming to terms with surviving without your Mum’s famous chicken dish. All while trying to figure out who you want to be and how you want to change the world.
Over 80% of Australian uni students report feeling stressed. Mental health challenges are widespread. It doesn’t make them any easier to talk about. It does, however, make speaking up all the more important. So, whether you need to check in on someone else’s headspace or want to discuss your own, we’re exploring what a healthy conversation about mental health looks like.
“Let’s go somewhere to talk?”
Not too many people want to discuss their brains over a packed lecture theatre. If you want to have the most productive chat possible, pick somewhere private and comfortable. Whether you’re asking for help or asking ‘R U OK?’, plan ahead to have enough time to talk, in a place that will make the conversation easier. If you can broach the subject while doing something else together, it can take the pressure off and feel more natural too. Go for a drive or a coffee walk and let the conversation flow.
"I’ve noticed you seem less chatty than usual. Is everything okay?"
When we’re worried about someone, it’s tempting to blurt out our concerns in a word vomit of love. We mean well, but it can catch people off-guard and make them less willing to open up. Be casual. Be clear about your concern. If they want to talk, they will. If they don’t, it’s easy to deflect. Not every conversation about mental health has to be a heart-to-heart but you can still take what they say seriously and show you care. Casual check-ins are important. You’re simultaneously being an excellent human and building trust if a bigger, more serious conversation is ever needed.
"I haven’t been feeling great"
It can be hard to admit that we’re not the infallible humans our Instagram would have everyone believe. But getting into the habit of answering ‘How are you?’ honestly is good for your mental health. Try treating your brain like you would any other body part. If you saw someone limping, you’d ask if they were alright. If you had a sore neck, you’d mention it to a friend. The more we talk about our headspace, good or bad, the more normal it becomes. When people know you’re open to talking about mental health they might be more likely to come to you in the future, or check in on you too.
“What’s been happening?”
The answer to ‘Are you okay’ might be ‘I’m not’. If so, stay cool, they don’t need you simultaneously freaking out. There’s no point asking the question if you’re not ready for that answer. Try to remain relaxed and encourage them to keep talking.
“That sounds tough...How long have you been feeling this way?"
When someone opens up, hear them. It’s as simple as accepting their experiences and acknowledging when things seem hard. Better yet, repeat back what you’ve heard and ask follow-up questions. It’ll show you’re listening and interested. Whatever you do, do it without judgement. That means avoiding language that minimizes the situation, like the ol’ classic ‘It’s not that bad’. This kind of dismissive response can do more harm than good.
“...” “That’s okay take your time”
When someone doesn’t know what to say, it’s natural to want to fill the gaps. But this can have the opposite effect, stopping conversation in its tracks. Instead, focus on creating a bit of space. If someone needs to think, sit with the silence. Sometimes we need time to process thoughts. It takes patience and practice, but it works wonders to create mindful conversations.
“How can I support you?"
You can’t fix someone else’s problems for them but you still might be able to help. They’ll probably know what it is that they need, so ask. If they’re unsure how they can be supported or where to go from here, be ready with suggestions. Let them know what you (or someone you know) found useful in difficult times. Maybe it was routine. Or exercise. Or meditation. Whatever it is, when you prepare those ideas, prepare to have them dismissed. Your friend may have already ‘been there, tried that’ or it may not be for them. A recommendation that’s almost always a good idea: seeing a professional. They can provide something a good mate can’t, so be positive about therapy as a tool to help. It’s super common and if they’re a Swinburne student too, completely free.
“Let’s have coffee next week"
After a chat, remember to book a time to check in again. If you can’t see your friend face to face, a text or call to discuss how things have been going will work too. Staying in touch and showing you car can really make a difference.
Of course, if you’re doing it right a conversation about mental health won’t follow a script. These tips can help, but as long as you keep it real and present, you’ll be able to talk about all the feels with no problem. Get talking.