Essential ingredients to support someone with a mental health issue.

Jayne Carrington, Director for wellbeing and engagement – Cordell Health

Time to Talk Day (about Mental Health) this year is on 7th February and the theme is ingredients…

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When I see the word ‘ingredients’ it makes me think about a recipe; getting myself organised and excited. The trouble comes with the weighing, the mixing, the baking. But it’s worth the effort.

So, what are the ingredients for supporting someone with mental health issues, and how can we bring them together? It's important. We used to think that “mental health” was a “taboo”, and something relatively few people “suffered” and where effective treatment was behind locked doors in a daunting asylum. Now we have come to realise that with one in four of us likely to have mental health issues at some time in our lives. It’s an everyday occurrence, and one where so very often simply bringing together the ingredients of friendship, support and a listening ear can be so effective.

I would start by creating an opportunity to talk - not in any sense a counselling coach or clinic room, but a quiet, relaxed, private space which feels comfortable, warm, secure and supportive. For me, that could be a country walk in the early spring sunshine or coffee and biscuits by a warm fire on a cold day. For others, it could be driving along in the car, or sitting quietly by the seafront. Choose carefully, and think about what would really work best.

The second crucial ingredient is time, plenty of it. Often time seems to be rationed, or simply unavailable as an ingredient, but you really do need it. Think of the difference when saying to someone “I haven’t much time, so what is it you wanted to say?” compared to “Let’s talk, I have all the time in the world…” How often all of us long for that time. Such a wonderful ingredient to bring to the mix.

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The third ingredient is a large dollop of “generous listening”. The very power of listening is enormous, and to be “generous” means to listen so intently and with such fulsome and genuine interest. Not as a “duty” or a “task”, but in an open, friendly and connected way. Generous listening is often scarce so you will need to look around the shops for enough of this ingredient, but it’s essential.

At the same time, find an ingredient which binds your own teeth and lips together for large periods of time! Something sticky, a large chunk of chewy toffee perhaps, anything which stops you from talking, from commenting on everything that is being said, and ensures that you simply listen. Remember that phrase “I am all ears”. Seriously, we so often minimize how important that is. So just a “pinch” (and no more) of your own comments or experience.

In fact, be careful with your ingredients that you do not change the mixture with “judgement” or even “advice”. They seem harmless in their little jars, but they can totally ruin your “Time to Talk cake”.

And there you have it - sometimes the best cakes are made from a few carefully selected ingredients – and it is as much about what you leave out as you add to the mix. Don’t over-mix, don’t over-cook. Simply bring the ingredients of “space, time, generous listening, and sticky toffees together”.

So, enjoy the day, bring those ingredients together and remember that any day can be a “Time to Talk” day.