On February 1, it was ‘Time To Talk’ Day. It’s should encourage all of us to be more open about our mental health and talk about how we really feel.

If you were concerned about a friend, colleague, or family member, would you know how to start a conversation with them?

The key lies in creating a safe space, somewhere they feel they will be heard and understood, free from judgement. The other important thing is to choose the right time.

Choose a quiet moment to express your concern. A simple, “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down lately” or “What’s going on at the moment?” shows you care, without pressuring them to open up to you.

You may have heard of the term ‘Active Listening’. Put simply, this means doing your best to get in the moment and giving the person your full attention, whilst not allowing yourself to be distracted.

If you are trying to talk to someone whilst scrolling on your phone, it won’t be helpful.

Active listening is a skill that can take time to perfect, and I am limited on space. However, there are a few things you may find helpful.

Make comfortable eye contact, and truly listen. Don’t interrupt, offer unsolicited advice, or try to “fix” things. Simply be there, absorbing their words and emotions with empathy.

Nod, ask clarifying questions, and reflect-back what you hear to let the person know you are listening to what they say.

It also gives them the chance to clarify something you may have misunderstood. Silence can be really useful in these situations; you don’t need to fill silences with a constant stream of questions.

Sometimes, people need to take time to process what you are saying to them. If they are already feeling overwhelmed, bombarding them with more questions won’t help.

No matter how much you may be tempted to try to downplay their struggles with phrases like 'it’s not that bad' or 'everyone feels this way sometimes'.

It is better to acknowledge the weight of their emotions. Say things like, 'that sounds really tough', or 'I understand why you’re feeling that way'.

For so many people, who may be feeling completely overwhelmed, or struggling to cope, just knowing that someone will listen to them, without judgement, can make a real difference.

By offering a listening ear and a supportive presence, you can remind them they’re not alone. So, reach out, have that conversation. You might just be the difference they need to start feeling like themselves again.

You can find out more about ‘Time to Talk’ day on the rethink mental illness website https://www.rethink.org/

Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various modalities and an Instructor Member of Mental Health First Aid England wellbeing@martinfurber.com

If you are in any type of mental health crisis, got to your GP or A&E or call the Samaritans on 116 123.