Starting Healthy Conversations

Originally Published Nov 22, 2021

Since March 2020, when the world turned upside down, many of us have come to understand how much we truly need one another.

Now more than ever, in a time of lockdowns and stress, we need to reach out to our friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else that matters to you, to make sure they are staying mentally healthy.

To mark R U OK?DAY on September 10, we have put together a guide on what is a healthy way to start off a conversation when you think someone you know needs a ‘check-in’.

As humans, we’re deeply social creatures and even if you’re feeling okay day-to-day, knowing how to start healthy conversations with your friends and loved ones during these unprecedented times shouldn’t be overlooked.

Many of us might be feeling pretty isolated right now. So, it makes sense that you’re looking for deeper connections, now more than ever.

Especially if you’re worried about your bestie who lives alone in a big city overseas or you’re hoping to reconnect with your auntie who lives across the country, starting these healthy conversations can boost both your mood and theirs and can truly make all the difference.

So, if you’re hoping to have more “D and Ms” -- you know, deep and meaningful conversations -- instead of surface-level catch-ups with your mates and relatives during these weird times, we’re here to help.

What is a healthy way to start off a conversation?

The start of any healthy conversation is one that’s based on honesty and openness. After all, we can’t go deep if we’re not willing to be vulnerable. So, before you catch up, you might want to think about what’s been actually been going on with you.

You might also think about the other person and the things you’ve noticed about their behaviour lately. Here are some questions to try.

  • “You haven’t been active on social media this month. What’s been going on with you?”
  • “I’ve noticed that you seem a bit stressed. Would you like to talk about what you’re feeling?”

As things get going, it might start a feel a little intense. But, intensity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. By making the other person feel heard and like you truly want to hear their thoughts, it can help you both have a healthy conversation about real thoughts and feelings.

A few ways to keep the conversation going while still acknowledging your interest and concern, you might try saying things like:

  • “I can tell that this has all be really hard for you. Keep going, I want to listen.”
  • “I know it can be difficult to talk about the scary parts of what’s been happening. Please tell me more so that I can understand.”

Then, if the conversation trails off, try using some simple questions and statements to help expand on a certain train of thought, especially if you feel like the other person is just being polite or modest.

  • “What happened next?”
  • “How did that make you feel?”
  • “What could make that situation better for you?”
  • “I understand.”

Conversations for R U OK? Day

What is a healthy way to start off a conversation that’s not only deep but is still sensitive to mental health issues?

Now, it’s one thing to start deep conversations with your friends and loved ones who might be struggling during quarantines and lockdowns. But, it’s a different story when it comes to starting conversations with someone who may have an underlying mental health condition.

In other words, it’s one thing when someone’s feeling a bit lonely but another thing completely when someone is downright depressed. So, we need to understand how to get through to people who might be beyond feeling down due to the circumstances.

  • Ask twice. Someone experiencing a mental health issue is not likely to open up on the first ask. Asking, “are you ok?” is likely to get a surface level response at first. So, without barraging them with questions, ask them twice by following up with, “But how are you really?” or “It’s ok if you’re not doing too well.”
  • Ask open questions instead of prying. Instead of getting too specific (or too broad) you can ask, “How have you been feeling while working from home?” or “What are you thinking about the lockdowns?”
  • Short conversations are ok. Sometimes, if a person is struggling with anxiety or depression, it can be too overwhelming to talk about their feelings for hours. So, a simple 10-minute chat now and again and be enough to show that you care.
  • No need to fix the issue. The main goal in a healthy conversation with someone struggling with mental health is to make sure they know they’re not alone. So, don’t offer advice or try to fix the “problem”.
  • Talk about hypotheticals. When you de-personalise the situations the other person may be facing, it could help them to open up about what’s actually bothering them instead of feeling worried that they might be judged for sharing their thoughts.
  • Share your side but don’t do all the talking. A conversation is always give and take, but you want to make sure you’re sharing for the sake of openness and not taking over the entire conversation.
  • Remove distractions. Make sure you can give your undivided attention to the conversation you’re having. If you’re busy wrangling the kids while chatting or checking your phone on a Zoom call, the other person might feel like they’re a burden to you. Wait until you have some time to devote to the chat.
  • It’s not a therapy session. Remember, you’re not a therapist (unless you are) but in any case, a conversation should not feel like therapy for either party. You can talk about therapy in a positive way to subtly encourage it as an option for those struggling with mental health, but be careful not to overstep.

And finally, probably the most important tip is to make sure that you’re ok before you enter a deep conversation with someone else. Of course, these chats are often beneficial for both parties involved. But, you must fill your own cup before you can even attempt to fill others’.

Mental health is more complicated than most of us think, but simply reaching out and being there for one another can really make a difference.

Tips for Better, Deeper Conversations

A few tips for better, deeper conversations in general include:

  • Make a list of who you want to re-connect with. It’s ok if it’s a long list.
  • Make the time. After all, it can take a while to get to the deep stuff.
  • Opt to call versus have the conversation via text.
  • Practise active listening instead of focusing on what you’ll say next.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Give and take. If you have something relevant to share, go ahead!
  • Honesty is the best policy. Aim for openness as it’ll help build trust and connection.
  • Lower your expectations. Not everyone will be ready to have those deep (and sometimes scary) conversations. Respect that.

We all know what it’s like when we have an amazing conversation with a friend, family member or colleague. So, be that person for someone else more often. It takes effort to reach out, but at the end of the day, it’s one of the best parts of being human -- connecting to one another.

Looking for Extra Help?

Overall well-being goes far deeper than nutrition and physical fitness. Mental health is so important and with all the uncertainty lately, it makes sense that you might want to have more serious conversations with friends and family who might be struggling. Or, if you might be struggling yourself.

If you need extra help, please reach out to a mental health professional or check out more Australia-wide mental health resources from organisations like Beyond Blue.

Starting healthy conversations when you feel isolated might be just what you need to feel less anxious, more in control, and more connected to your community. Once you do, you’ll likely be ready for your next batch of quarantine sourdough.

Meet Tommy: Speech Pathology helped Tommy understand words, questions and have simple conversations

We sometimes take our ability to communicate verbally for granted. But for some, verbal communication can be tricky.

Meet Tommy.

In 2019 Tommy's family approached Physio Inq for our Mobile & In-Home Speech Pathology services.

He was unable to use words, mostly babbled or communicates his feelings through his behaviour.

Now, with the help of Emily, our Mobile & In-Home Speech Pathologist in Sydney, NSW, Tommy is able to use words, key word signs, have simple conversations, ask questions, and use his manners! What incredible progress!

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The information provided on this blog is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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