Updated: Jan 12, 2019
Have you noticed that much of the emphasis in mental health support is to encourage you to talk about your feelings and experiences? I am usually an advocate of this method for first contact but it has its drawbacks.
I was talking to some military veterans a few weeks ago about this very subject. They explained to me the great difficulty they had with first contact (usually via helplines) for their mental health problems after leaving the service. Every charity or organisation they approached, wanted them to open up and talk. Now don't get me wrong, I believe that talking is a powerful tool when guided correctly but it's not so straightforward. Talking about their experiences was the last thing some of them wanted to do. They all recognised the need for some sort of support because everyday life could be a real challenge. This caused disillusionment and reluctance to approach any of the helplines again. This is a common theme with men as they often don't like to reveal their feelings or talk about their problems. There is still the assumption of stigma and are worried about what their friends, family and work colleagues will think about them.
So what can you and I do to help support someone who is in distress but doesn't want to talk?
First of all, if they don't want to talk then don't pressure them to do so. Ensure that the individual knows that you are there for them and that its also OK not to talk. Spend time with them and offer support to get their basic needs met wherever possible. Gently encourage them to get involved in activities and social events without pressuring them.
Secondly, there are other avenues to explore like relaxation, meditation or mindfulness classes. Regular mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress and depression; it also infers coping strategies that can be used in everyday situations which may present anxiety triggers for the individual. If long term reduction in anxiety is achieved then the individual may be willing to talk about their experiences at a later date when they can maintain control and don't feel overwhelmed.