06 Oct The Importance of Being Non-Judgemental
How to have a conversation about mental health with a loved one
When you have a loved one who is struggling, it is human nature to want to reach out and help them in any way you can, but frequently all we can do is be there, support them and encourage them to seek professional help. Everyone always talks about the importance of having conversations with our loved ones about their mental health – but the way in which we have those conversations is just as important. During these conversations there could be discussion around topics that can be difficult to talk about, such as suicide, self harming behaviours, disordered eating, and addiction. It is key to be prepared and to remind yourself to be non-judgemental, as we are not there to criticise, judge, or share our personal opinions about their behaviours. By staying non-judgemental, they are more likely to feel comfortable about discussing their issues and to continue the conversation. They are also more likely to come back to you again when they are struggling, which means you have more opportunities to be able to help them.
It is important to remember that their behaviour is not always reflective of who they are as a person, or is in their control in the first place. Frequently people with mental health issues do things in the moment that they themselves find embarrassing, dangerous, or impulsive. Instead of expressing this and reminding them, reinforce that you are here for them and want them to get help so that it doesn’t continue.
Here are some common responses to avoid:
- That’s not normal
- I can’t believe you have done this to yourself
- Why would you think like that?
- Oh my god, that’s so bad
- Why would you do that to yourself?
- That makes no sense
- You’re crazy
- You don’t look depressed
- What’s wrong with you?
- I understand what your going through
One response people often give with good intention is that they understand. This may be surprising to some as to why it is on the list. However, you can never truly understand what someone else is going through, no matter how similar the circumstances are. You can empathise with someone, as you may know what it feels like to be in that situation, but it is impossible to truly understand the nuances of another human being’s feelings. And that is okay! You are there to support, listen, and help them realise that they are not alone. Keeping in mind the difference between empathy and understanding can be a powerful tool to help with that.
Being non-judgemental does not mean that you are ignoring your own feelings or are being blind to their behaviour. It means that you are choosing to separate the person’s behaviour from who they are as a person. You are aware and acknowledging any prejudice you may have in yourself to best be able to support that loved one in an open-minded way. After seeing your loved one, it is important to consider your own feelings and to express them in a safe space for you. You may be shocked with some of their behaviours, and that is reasonable, so letting that out in a way that is separate from them is important.
Of course it must be said that if they are in danger of hurting themselves or anyone else that you immediately call 000 for assistance. Our end goal with these conversations is to help our loved one create positive change, feel supported and, if appropriate, point them in the direction of professional help. In Australia we have available some great resources listed below to help you go in the right direction if you need support.
At Health Place we are lucky to work with Rachel Jones of Lift High Performance Psychology who is passionate about helping people of all ages and performance levels to reach their performance potential in sport, exercise, medicine, performing arts, academia, business and everyday life. For further questions or appointments feel free to call us at (07) 3852 2434, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or
QLD Mental Health Week: https://www.qldmentalhealthweek.org.au/
Lifeline (Crisis Support, Suicide, Addiction and Substance Abuse): https://www.lifeline.org.au/Home
Beyond Blue (Depression, Anxiety and Suicide): https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Kids Help Line (Phone and Online Counselling for young people ages 5-25): https://www.kidshelpline.com.au/
Mens Line (Support and Counselling for Men): https://mensline.org.au/
Q Life (LGBTQI+ Support and Counselling): https://qlife.org.au/
The Butterfly Foundation (Eating Disorders): https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/
1800RESPECT (Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Family Violence): https://www.1800respect.org.au/