Research comes as charity Time to Change launches a new campaign, prompting people to ‘ask twice’ when finding out how loved ones are doing
The charity found that more than three quarters (78%) of us would tell friends and family we’re ‘fine’ even if we are struggling with a mental health problem.
Over 2000 people all over the country were surveyed, and it seems that while most of us will ask how colleagues and friends are doing, it is a pretty meaningless exchange. The usual and expected response to “How are you?” is “I’m fine thanks”.
So why do we say “I’m fine” even if we’re having a rough time?
Survey responses suggest that we typically doubt whether people really want to know, or if they are just being polite. 54% said that just because people ask how you are, it doesn’t mean they really want to know, while 52% said they didn’t want to burden people.
39% of respondents said they would only talk honestly if they were confident their friend or family member really wanted to listen.
To tackle this, Time to Change is urging people to ‘Ask Twice’ if they suspect a friend, family member or colleague may be struggling with their mental health. The campaign encourages asking twice, saying that “the simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.”
The campaign launches as part of the charity’s five-year In Your Corner campaign, which encourages us to be more open and supportive of the one in four people living with a mental health problem in any given year.
Time to Change say that while there has been a positive shift in the way mental health problems are viewed in England, insight shows that in practical terms, many people are still unsure of how to be supportive.
Director of Time to Change, Jo Loughran says: “We all hear it dozens of times a day: ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine thanks, how are you?’. Our research shows that, as a nation, we find it hard to answer honestly. This could mean that someone close to you is struggling with their mental health - they might just be waiting for your cue to talk about it.
“Asking twice is a simple, effective way to show our friends and family members that we are asking for real; that we are ready to listen, whether that’s now or whenever they’re ready.”
It can be hard to open up about mental health - we don't want people to worry, or to think they have to fix it. Sometimes it takes an extra nudge to start that conversation, so if your friend's acting differently, #AskTwice.— Time to Change (@TimetoChange) October 2, 2018
Matthew's story: https://t.co/Vakqj6lgzv pic.twitter.com/KHc5dCBIgZ
Talking about how you feel has real power. While our friend or colleague may say they are fine, if we ask again, it not only shows that we truly care about them, but it also opens up the opportunity for conversation.
Deian, who has experienced depression, says: “I’ve pretended to be fine when I’m not countless times! I’ve had mental health problems on and off my whole life including suicidal thoughts which eventually ended my marriage.
“It can take a lot to open up about mental health problems. It makes a big difference knowing that people are asking because they care and want to try and support.
“My friends do ask if I’m OK, but I’d feel more comfortable opening up if they asked more than once. When I have been able to talk in the past, it really has been life-changing.
“If people are unsure of how to support their friends or family, I’d say just ask how they are, twice if necessary, and find out how they are really feeling.”
You don’t need to be an expert to offer support either. While it can be difficult to know how to respond when a friend finally does open up, sometimes all you need to do is listen. Be sure to take what they are saying seriously, though remember that you don’t need to be the one to fix it. Be there for them and offer your support, if they need further help, offer to go with them. Going alone can be incredibly daunting, and knowing they have someone who cares can make taking the first step easier.
Learn more about the Ask Twice campaign.
Counselling Directory has plenty of resources which may help you to start the conversation, and feel more comfortable reaching out and supporting a loved one. Articles you may find helpful include It’s OK to ask for help and What to do if you’re worried about a friend.
Be sure to look after yourself too. Supporting a loved one through a difficult time can take its toll on your own mental health, so remember to schedule in some time for you. Read more about the importance of self-care.