The importance of talking

We’re often surrounded by people talking. We hear them on the TV or radio, online, in the classroom, at the dinner table, everywhere – and sometimes it can be overwhelming. One way of coping is to filter the information and extract what is useful, but sometimes this leads to ‘switching off’ entirely.

We all need to talk and share experiences and concerns, or, in the words of one young person, you risk your worries ‘eating you up inside’. So, are there different kinds of talking that we need, and others which aren’t so useful?

One way to think about positive conversation is to imagine a ‘meeting of minds’. But what has to happen for two minds to meet?

  • They both must have some curiosity about what and how the other person thinks and feels.
  • They don’t have to agree about everything, but they need to be interested in each other’s way of thinking and how they each reason things out.
  • They both need to trust each other to be honest. That does not mean that they both tell each other everything and say things immediately in an open way. It means they both accept each other as ‘on the level’, talk out of interest, and don’t try to get some kind of advantage over each other.

When a person’s thoughts and feelings – which may be source of shame, uncertainty or shyness – are accepted and heard by another, they may begin to feel their thoughts and feelings are more normal and acceptable.

All this might seem obvious, but it is a bit more than just ‘listening’, because each person is teaching the other to trust in their own thoughts and feelings – and that’s really important.

We all learn about our emotions and thoughts as we grow up by the way in which parents, carers and teachers respond to them. In fact, as infants we may have all kinds of emotions bubbling up, but it is only as we learn the words for them – happy, sad, frightened, cross, angry, frustrated, calm, excited and so on – that they become part of our library of emotions. We can then use them like a compass to navigate our way through new experiences as we grow up, and later as adults. Of course, this means that as little children we are very dependent on our parents and carers to help us learn about emotions.

When a parent has a mental illness, it can be very difficult for them to respond in a way that’s best for a child’s early learning about thoughts and feelings. If you are that child, this sometimes means it’s difficult to trust and manage your thoughts and feelings. You can still learn all these things, but it’s very important for you to find other children and adults that you can have a positive conversation with. It could be a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a family friend, a teacher or school nurse. You will have to judge whether you can have a ‘meeting of minds’ with that person, but don’t give up until you find someone who you can talk to. As one young person described it, ‘Once the door is opened, and you have broken the (almost) physical barrier, it can feel lovely.’

Time to Change runs Time to Talk Day each year (7th February 2019 this year) to highlight the importance of talking about mental health. This article is in support of that campaign and highlights the importance of talking when it comes to parental mental illness. #timetotalk