PULL UP A CHAIR – THE FIRST DRINK IS ON US.
Welcome to the Tavern! Here you’ll find a range of resources aimed at helping you start a conversation with the important people in your life.
We’re going to assume that you’re here because you know someone who’s going through a bit of a tough time. First of all – kudos to you for wanting to help! Starting “that” conversation with someone may be the most important conversation you, or they, ever have. Chances are, though, that neither you or they quite know how to navigate that conversation. If you did, you probably wouldn’t be here…
As mentioned in the disclaimer, everything you read below is for information purposes only – imagine we’re your great uncle giving you advice: A lot of it might be really relevent to you, other parts you might want to take with a grain of salt. It’s advice, not an infallible methodology.
Things to be aware of before you get started:
- When going through a tough time, opening up emotionally is an act of vulnerability. People will only do so when they feel safe and unjudged. This is quite possibly best summed up, as most things as, by the following “American Dad” video.
- Just because you’re ready to talk, doesn’t mean that they are. If they don’t open up the first time you try to have the conversation, that’s fine. It may take many conversations in varying contexts before they do.
- As people will likely only open up to someone with whom they feel safe, it may mean that someone else, like another friend or family member, is in a more effective position to start the conversation. Sometimes people find it easier to open up to strangers than people they know.
- When having the conversation, it’s not your responsibility to try and “fix” their problems – it’s just about listening. If you think counselling or deeper advice is required, help get them in touch with services like Reach Out, Headspace, beyondblue, Lifeline, Black Dog Institute or Kids Help Line.
- Tying in to the point above: There’s a difference between being empathetic and a martyr. Despite the fact that you want to help others, ensuring your own postive mental health is priority number one.
The following is just one possible process for starting a conversation if you think someone is going through a tough time:
- Plan, in advance, a suitable environment and time to chat. Casual, informal situations where there’s a little bit of privacy and mimimal distractions are a great start. Talking over a coffee or beer is a great icebreaker. Consider the time of day and context, too: Will they be preoccupied with other thoughts or activities?
- Meet them with the expectation that you’re just catching up to have a chat. If the conversation eventually allows you to move into a deeper conversation, then that’s perfect: You can start to move into deeper questions. If not, that’s fine. Back off, and start the process again some other time.
- If they ask you to promise “to not tell anyone” what they’re about to tell you, try avoid agreeing to this. Reframe the request and say that you won’t tell anyone else without them knowing. This way, if something unexpected arises that needs further action, you’ve given yourself the freedom to act upon it, while ensuring you’ve been honest to them.
- Ask open ended questions. If you ask a question such as “Are you OK”, you’ve given them two options: Yes or No. 99% of the time people will say yes out of habit and politenss. Questions like “How are you feeling?” or “How is work going?” etc. are far more powerful at eliciting deeper responses. When you ask someone how they are, they’ll often respond with how things around them in life are going, rather than how they’re feeling. Our favourite response to this is usually “No, I didn’t ask how [insert] activity is, I want to you how YOU’RE doing.”
QUESTIONS ARE FATEFUL
- Be comfortable with silence. When someone is opening up, there will probably be (very) large gaps where they are processing their thoughts. The natural reaction may be to try and fill this silence with sound, conversation or “advice”. Resist this urge – they will eventually continue. If a considerable amount of time passes and it appears as though they’re lost in their thoughts, a simple prompt question like “what are you thinking about” may be helpful.
- Keep it light. If this is the first time they’re opening up, they won’t want to feel as though they’ve walked into an intervention. You’re probably quite close to the person in question, so just act like you normally would.
- Often people will try and change the conversation away from themselves. This may mean that they no longer want to talk, but it also might just be them being polite, lightening the situation, or “not wanting to burden” you. Ask another question or two to see if they’ll open up any further. Often they will, but it not, back off and try again another time.
- Ask if they’ve shared their feelings / concerns / story with anyone else. If not (and depending on how serious you think their situation is), recommend further resources or people they might want to consider talking to. (There are a range of resources at the bottom of this page).
- End the conversation with afirmation that you’re always there to talk.
A CONVERSATION IS ALL IT TAKES
After all of this, you may still be questioning whether a simple conversation really has the power to change someone’s life. That’s fair enough.
So, we want to share one of our all-time favourite stories about a man named Don Ritchie. Don passed away in 2012 at the age of 82. He lived at the Rocks in Sydney, which just so happens to be Australia’s number one suicide spot.
He wasn’t a doctor or a pyschologist – he was an insurance salesman. Living across the road from the cliffs, he would sometimes see people standing on the edge looking as though they might jump.
When this happened he would simply go over to them and ask them in for a cup of tea and a chat.
That’s it. A cup of tea and a chat.
That simple act officially saved over 160 Australians. Don was an ordinary man that possesd two things: Empathy and courage: The empathy to care about others and the courage to do something about it.
You’re on this website because you want to help – you already have the empathy. All that’s required now is that small step to have the courage to start a conversation.
Below are a range of super useful resources from across the web:
The Mental Health First Aid Austalia website provides a plethora of absolutely awesome PDFs with lots of info about various mental health issues. They’re all written for people like you – who want to understand and indentify how to help others.
Possibly of most use to you are the:
If you’re interested in become more proficient in the mental health space, you might want to consider doing an accredited short-course. Mental Health First Aid Austalia have a range of options.
There are a heap of other websites that have more information that either you, or the person you came here for, might find useful:
- Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services.
- Beyondblue is Australia’s largerst mental health service and has a vast array of information and services.
- Black Dog Institute are dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by mood disorders – such as depression or anxiety.
- Reachout is a great tool for those 25 and under. It’s ideal for finding answers about life, mental health, sex, friends, family and drugs.
- Headspace exists to help young people who are going through a tough time.
- Beacon provides links to a range of Australian services within specific areas (such as alcohol, eating disorders etc.)
- Despite its name, Kids Helpline is there for anyone up to the age of 25.