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Time For A Check-In: How To Talk About Mental Health

Survey results | How to start the conversation | Check in on your own mental heath

Talking about mental health is the first step to addressing how someone may be feeling. Not only can it give someone an outlet for their emotions, but it can also make other people aware that they may be struggling.

But we know that talking about mental health can be a challenge. No matter what you or a loved one may be going through, conversations about mental health often feel awkward and uncomfortable.

So, as part of our Time For A Check-In campaign, we commissioned an in-depth survey* to find out how Brits actually feel about talking about mental health issues.

Read on to learn what we found, as well as our tips for overcoming any awkwardness when talking about mental health.

What do Brits think are the biggest mental health concerns?

Every stage of life has its own mental health challenges. Some people struggle with depression when they’re young. Others may be burdened by stress later down the line.

And while every one of those experiences is personal, there are clear patterns of mental health across the different age groups. In fact, our survey data found that Brits have a consistent perspective on the most common mental health concerns for each age group.

For example, 49% of our respondents believed that anxiety is the most prevalent mental health illness for those under 18, whereas 57% thought loneliness to be the most common concern for over 60s. What’s more, Brits think that those aged 18 to 30 struggle with depression most, while a majority believe that 31 to 60 years old is most commonly defined by stress or burnout.

Of course, these are only the perceptions of mental health concerns for each age group. The reality is that everyone can experience stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness – no matter how old they are. Still, the survey results show that Brits do recognise that there are different concerns across the ages, which is the first step on the journey to talk more about mental health!

Is the UK well equipped to talk about mental health?

Our research revealed that people can recognise the most common mental health concerns in their friends, children, parents, and grandparents. The question still remains, however: are Brits comfortable talking about mental health?

Well, unfortunately, our research suggests this isn’t the case .

In our survey, 34% of Brits do not feel well equipped to talk about other people’s mental health with them. That’s over a third of the nation who do not feel comfortable talking about mental health issues with their loved ones. Perhaps more concerningly, 29% of Brits admit that they have been concerned about someone’s mental health, but did not know what to do about it.

When we dived deeper into the exact reasons why Brits struggle to talk to someone about their mental health, 33% of people were worried about saying the wrong thing. There were also concerns about being too intrusive (31%) or upsetting (29%) by bringing up the topic of mental health.

That’s not to say that Brits aren’t keen to talk about mental health with friends and family – it’s just a case of building confidence.

Our survey results revealed that 31% of people want to know how to help someone feel comfortable during those tricky topics. Additionally, 30% of Brits want to know the best questions to ask, while 28% need advice on how to start the conversation in the first place.

Do different generations approach mental health differently?

While our research shows that all Brits seem to struggle when talking about mental health, we wanted to find out how different generations approach this important topic.

For example, are young people the most confident when checking in with other people’s mental health, compared to other age groups? Why are over 60s so quiet on the topic of mental health in general?

See the findings from our survey, below.

Do young people talk about mental health concerns?

According to our survey data, Brits aged 18-24 are the most vocal about their emotional wellbeing, with 43% talking about mental health often or very often.

However, the younger generation still struggle when it comes to checking in on other people’s mental health. A third of 18-24 year olds said they have been concerned about someone else’s mental health but have not known what to do about it. Furthermore, 28% of this age group regret not checking in on someone’s mental health in the past.

One of the biggest obstacles to young people checking in on someone else’s mental health is spotting the signs in the first place. Our research revealed that 29% of 18-24 year olds struggle to identify symptoms of poor mental health in other people – but, thankfully, this is easily remedied.

To see whether you need to talk about mental health with your family or friends, have a look at the potential signs and symptoms to look out for in young people, below:

  • Erratic behaviour or mood swings.
  • Unexplained absences from school, college, or university.
  • Avoiding spending times with friends or family.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Spending a lot of time on their own.
  • Constantly exhausted.

Do over 60s talk about mental health concerns?

If the younger generations are the most vocal about their mental health, Brits over 60 are certainly the most reserved age group. As many as 42% of those 60 and over rarely or never talk about mental health – which is the most of any age group in the UK.

Their reluctance to talk about mental health comes from worrying about saying the wrong thing and not wanting to be intrusive, with 34% of over 60s citing these reasons. In the main, this age group would be more confident talking about mental health if they knew the right questions to ask.

With those over 60 being so quiet on mental health, it’s important for everyone else to pick up the conversation. Brits are most concerned about loneliness among this age group, while mental health around the menopause should also be taken into account.

How should Brits talk about mental health concerns?

With many people admitting they don’t know how to talk to someone about their mental health, we wanted to lend a helping hand. That’s why we’ve pulled together a list of tips** on how to talk to the people in your life about mental health, below.

1.     Recognise the importance of emotional wellbeing

The very first step of talking about mental health is to simply understand that emotional wellbeing is relative to each person.

From dealing with financial stress to struggling to cope with grief, everyone’s negative emotions should be acknowledged and discussed. No matter the situation, it’s so important for the person to feel like they are being taken seriously.

After all, we’ve all heard such phrases as “keep your chin up” or been told just to “crack on”, and it’s not helpful advice. In some cases, it could even be seen as dismissive or patronising. So, to start that honest conversation about mental health, emotional wellbeing needs to be taken seriously.

2.     Choose the right setting for your chat

Finding a comfortable setting is key to getting someone to open up about their mental health. Try to choose a discreet location, free from distractions or interruption.

In fact, according to our survey, 24% of people will invite someone out for a coffee or a drink to talk about mental health. Not everyone will feel comfortable opening up in such a public place though. You can also choose a private meeting room at work, a peaceful walk around a park, or simply invite that person to your home.

It's important to note, however, that you shouldn't let finding that absolute perfect setting stop you from having an important chat about mental health.

3.     Ask open questions

Whether you’re talking about mental health with your family or friends, always try to ask open questions.

An open question is one that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Some examples of open questions you could use to talk to someone about their mental health include:

  • How are you doing today?
  • What’s on your mind?
  • What does that feel like?

When starting a conversation about someone’s mental health, it can be helpful to include a statement before your open question. For example, “I’ve noticed you seem a little down recently. How are you doing?”

It is reassuring to know that 23% of Brits in our survey said that they would explain their perspective and why they are concerned.

It’s these types of questions that naturally encourage people to reflect on and share their feelings. On the other hand, if the person is trying to answer with short or closed responses, then don’t push them too much to open up.

4.     Listen actively

As we all know, talking about your own mental health is really hard. That’s why it’s important to show you’re truly listening when you check in on others.

There are different ways to actively listen to someone. Everyday non-verbal cues, such as nodding your head, seem very simplistic but are much more impactful than you think.

Active listeners should not look distracted either, so avoid fidgeting or checking your phone while the other person is talking. If you are sitting down with someone, maintain eye contact to show they have your full attention.

When talking about mental health, avoid interrupting the other person too. It can steer the conversation in a different direction or give the impression that your opinions on the topic are more important. Instead, allow a few seconds of silence after the person stops speaking to then ask another open question.

5.     Don’t rush for a solution

It’s important to remember you’re just checking in with someone; you don’t need to offer all the solutions.

Your role when talking about mental health is to just let someone express how they’re feeling. It’s about giving them an opportunity to confidentially discuss their emotional wellbeing, without interruption or judgement.

Often, people want the time and space to come to their own conclusions, so offering solutions or advice isn’t overly helpful. Sometimes, you just need to be a friendly sounding board.

Who can I talk to about my mental health with?

While it’s always important to check in on your loved ones, don’t forget to look after yourself, too!

Whether it’s a close friend or a family member, find someone who you trust to listen to your concerns. Go and grab a coffee together or invite them to a location you’re comfortable in to talk about your mental health.

You can also find support outside of your social circle by talking to trained professionals. For example, it can be really helpful to talk to your GP about your mental health. Not only can they provide a sympathetic ear, but a medical professional can take steps towards directly addressing your mental health concerns with treatments and advice.

With Benenden Health’s affordable private healthcare, you gain access to our 24/7 Mental Health Helpline from day one. This means you can speak to a counsellor at any time of the day or night for immediate emotional support.

Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your mental health with other people, there are plenty of ways to cope with your concerns. For example, you could read our article on the 10 ways to help your mental health, glance over some stress-busting tips, or find out how to protect your brain health.

Head over to our Time For a Check-In hub to see how else you can look after your and your loved ones' health.

* A survey of 10 questions to 2,000 UK adults, conducted November 2022.

** Advice provided by Llinos Connolly (Clinical services sister at Benenden Health).