Have you ever been in a situation where it seems like someone you care about isn’t feeling quite themselves, but you don’t know how to bring it up? You don’t know if they’re just down, or if they’re feeling depressed. You don’t know if they want to talk about it or not. You don’t know whether bringing it up is the right thing to do, or whether it’s going to make things worse. You just don’t know.
So what do you do? You sit in an awkward silence. If you don’t know what to say, it’s probably safer to just say nothing, right?
Wrong, according to a new campaign by the Jed Foundation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Ad Council and advertising agency Droga5. Their campaign, Seize The Awkward, wants to encourage people to get past those awkward silences to give help to people who really need it. Their video shows pairs of people in various awkward situations – sitting next to a silent friend on the sofa, a couple lying next to each other in bed, two football players at urinals – and shows what can happen when someone breaks that awkward silence in order to ask how the other is doing. Broadway star Gideon Glick says, “Starting the conversation now could stop something much worse from happening later on.”
The campaign is aimed at teenagers and young adults, which is why to support it they have interviews with YouTubers such as Hannah Hart and Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey, but it’s got plenty of useful information for adults too. Their website contains ways to spot that a friend is struggling with mental health and lots of conversation starters for people who still don’t know quite how to start talking.
The interviewees are brilliant, not only explaining how their friends talking to them helped them but also offering helpful advice and reassurance for people who are nervous about starting a conversation themselves. “When I’m depressed I feel like I’m a burden on people and I don’t want to burden them with my problems” explains Posey. Hart, meanwhile, tries to emphasise the importance of letting someone talk. “You should listen twice as much as you speak,” she says. “I feel like we have a tendency to want to fix problems and give advice…that’s only because we don’t want to see the person we love suffer. Sometimes we have to let them suffer in that moment so they can let their suffering out.”
Although talking to a friend is never going to be enough to completely “fix” someone’s mental health problems, something like this can be a great first step to opening up and getting help
According to Mind, approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. A 2014 survey also suggested that people are increasingly unable to cope with their mental health problems, as rates of suicide and self-harm are increasing – yet in 2017, mental health spending was cut by 4.5 million pounds. Our mental health services are massively overstretched, and people are going to slip through the cracks. Although talking to a friend is never going to be enough to completely “fix” someone’s mental health problems, something like this can be a great first step to opening up and getting help.
This is exactly what happened with me; I’ve been the friend who was depressed and unable to cope with it more times than I care to think about. I wanted to talk to someone about it desperately, but didn’t know how to find the words. I am forever grateful to the people in my life who broke my awkward silence with a gentle inquiry into how I was feeling. They didn’t solve my mental health woes, but they listened to them. They told me I wasn’t a bad person for feeling this way, and their emotional support gave me the strength to make practical steps in my recovery – namely going to a doctor, getting antidepressants and starting therapy. They gave me hope when I was feeling hopeless, and it was the best thing they could have done for me.
When someone you know has a mental health issue, you don’t have to have all the solutions in order to help them. All you have to do is help someone start to talk about their problems. Seize the awkward, ask the question, then let them speak. You’re doing all you really can do, and the difference it can make to someone’s life is incredible.