Sastang pranam at your lotus feet Swamiji.

In one of my previous posts, I highlighted the reasons which make discussing ‘Mental Health’ as a Taboo. The conclusion we drove home was it is mostly the society as a whole which has forced the belief and re-inforced the stigma. The jinx needs to be broken. The shackles need to be torn. What can we do for the cause? Yes, first let’s take the first step. Let’s have a level of understanding about how to approach a person who is going through a low mental phase, a turbulent life storm. Do you need to tell the fellow, “Hey, get going, nothing happened to you.” or do we need to tell, “look mate, bootstrap yourself, we gonna walk together through the storm”.

Basically, how to break the ice with someone who has holed up, has gone deeper inside the shell, is basically not willing even to talk, let alone reciprocate. One has to be very very careful in this regard as he / she is going to deal with a very fragile mind which can break apart like a glass pane hit by a stone. So please handle with care as the matter is highly sensitive.

You may have a friend who seems down or a family member who appears anxious. You want to ask them how they’re feeling but you don’t because you feel awkward bringing it up in conversation. Sounds familiar? Yes, we exactly do not know how to strike a conversation in the first place. And to be honest, it is not an easy job either. Believe me, it takes a big heart to deal with the situation for the ‘normal’ person who is going to do the job.

Why is it so hard to talk about mental health? The prevalence of stigma and discrimination toward people with mental illness makes it difficult to have a transparent conversation about how we feel. But an open dialogue about mental health can help everyone to proceed in the path of offloading and subsequent healing. Mental illness is one of the most common health conditions; as per researchers whether we admit it or not. I do not want to dive deeper into the data analysis, but data are in plenty. Despite the prevalence of mental illness and the likelihood it will impact you or someone you care about, a stigma still exists that leads to denying, minimizing, or ignoring a mental health concern. In fact, in general, fewer than half of adults with mental health issues seek the help they need as per research studies. 

People may not realize that there are numerous ways to treat mental illness effectively—and you can easily live a normal lifestyle by learning how to manage mental health symptoms. Brain health is just as important as any other physical health concern—it affects how you feel, think, perceive and how you act. By openly sharing how we feel and talking about mental health daily, more people may seek professional help.

If you have concerns about a friend, colleague, or family member, or anyone who you care about, how do you talk to them about their mental health? Please feel free to consider the following few things which will help you out:

  1. Be mindful to ask ‘open-ended’ questions

Now what do I mean by ‘open ended’ question? Let me give you some example to drive the point home. Don’t simply say, “How are you?” Be a little more compassionate and dig a little deeper and help them open up. Maybe start with, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately—is everything OK?”. Another one that can be tried is, “I’m concerned about you, dear” or “How have you felt since your sister passed away?” Please allow them time to answer without much interruption.

Be sure not to make jokes which in most cases drive them deeper into their ‘shell’. Let them know they can trust you with their feelings if they’re willing to share. Follow up and ask them again to keep an ongoing conversation. Leaving an ongoing conversation abruptly is the last thing you can do to worsen the situation. When you are showing your sensitivity, you better mean it rather than superficially show it. Please don’t underestimate a mind going through a low phase. It is running much more processes than a normal brain and can have more sharpness to identify your fake emotions in case you try to fake it.

      2. Convey the message that they are not alone

Most of the people going through a rough patch of mental turbulence imagine that they are fighting a war all alone. They are on their own against the tormenting mental onslaught. But, this, my friend is the game being played by our monkey mind. Then you might ask, how to counter it? Quite an apt question. The following approach can be adopted.

Sharing a story anonymously about another person you know who has experienced the same thing or sharing your own experiences can help them feel like they are not the only one struggling. Make them aware that, there are n number of people at that same instant who are going through the same or even worse condition than them. Make sure you don’t switch the topic of conversation to your issues. Instead, focus on their needs. This will create a reassuring environment.

After I went through my low phase in late 2020, the first thing I learnt is to share my feelings, my experiences. Previously I used to keep it as a hidden chapter of my life and never used to discuss in public. But now I have no hesitation in discussing the same and how I wriggled out from the bottom. After this phase of mine, whenever I get to interact anyone going through a low phase, I share my experience at the same time I analyze the case based on the problem they are facing. So the approach has a blend of both the recipe. 

       3. Learn the art to listen patiently

Don’t interrupt, and don’t be in a haste to throw a solution / fix—that may make them feel dismissed and resigned. Simply listening is sometimes all that’s needed and maybe enough. Feeling listened to can help people start to make sense of their experience and help them create a plan to seek treatment. If the person is confident that his / her problem is being listened, he / she will open up with all details.

You cannot imagine the impact of this little gesture. It has the potential to unwind the person and in turn a feeling of ‘being relived emotion’ helps release happy hormones to further accentuate the ‘feel good’ factor. The knot gets untied, the packed up emotions and pent up pressure get a release-valve to eject. A sense of peace and tranquility prevails. And all these, I am writing from my own experience. I really mean it.

Before the article becomes too long, allow me to wind up here. Part – II will follow though I did not think it will become so long at the start.

Keep watching for Part-II and happy weekend.

Jai Shri Hari…