Talking about your mental health is an important first step – but what comes next?

Written by Lauren Geall

When it comes to looking after our mental health, talking is a great first step. But what comes next?

When you’re struggling with your mental health, one of the first pieces of advice you’re likely to come across is to talk about how you’re feeling.

The only thing worse than struggling with your mental health is struggling alone – and whether you choose to speak to your friends, family, colleagues or a trained professional, verbalising what’s going on in your head can be a huge relief.

But once you’ve taken that positive (and incredibly brave) first step, knowing what to do next is often less clear. So much emphasis is placed on talking that doing so can sometimes feel like a bit of an anti-climax – while talking can certainly make a big difference and give you someone to turn to, chances are it won’t make everything better straight away, and you might need to seek additional support.

And that’s where this article comes in. Because while looking after your mental health may not be as simple as having a conversation, there are plenty of resources, experts and support systems in place to help you cope if you’re struggling. 

To find out more about what to do next after you’ve started talking, we spoke to Rosie Weatherley, information content manager at the mental health charity Mind, and Clare Perkins, director of the mental health programme at Public Health England.

From free resources to help you look after your mental health at home to seeking additional support, here’s what they had to say.  

1. Prioritise self-care

Taking small, daily steps to look after yourself and your wellbeing can make a big difference in the long-run, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.

“There are many things we can do to improve our mood and wellbeing, even during lockdown,” Weatherley explains. “Try to follow a routine, maintain a healthy diet, get enough sleep and incorporate some physical exercise into your day – whether that’s doing an online workout, or even simply dancing around your home, cleaning or gardening. Exercise releases feel-good hormones such as serotonin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. 

“If you are able to, get outside. Physical activity in nature has even more mental health benefits, as well as boosting our vitamin D, which can improve our mood, even in winter when light levels are low.”

Perkins echoes Weatherley’s advice and stresses the importance of trying to take every day as it comes – especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

“Creating a routine or structure in your day can help reduce any uncertainty and can be a way to build in positive activities such as exercise or hobbies,” she says.

“Focusing on the short term and the day-to-day events can be a really useful way to reduce any nervousness around the future. When everything feels up in the air or overwhelming, it is good to focus and acknowledge what is working, no matter how small. This could include a new song, a nice meal, or even just talking to someone that makes you feel good.”

2. Keep talking

Just as that first conversation can help to take some of the weight off of your shoulders, continuing to talk about how you’re feeling – and talking to a range of different people alongside the first person you spoke to – can make a big difference.

“Lots of us depend on social contact to help us stay well, and although we may not be able to see our loved ones in person perhaps as much as we’d like right now, it’s important that we reach out as much as we can – whether that’s via text, email, phone or video call,” Weatherley says.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to a friend or family member or want to get something off of your chest in a non-judgmental environment, accessing a peer support network is also a great option. 

“Peer support networks provide a place to listen and share with others who have similar experiences,” Weatherley adds. “Our online mental health community Side by Side is a safe, moderated platform where anyone aged 18 and over with experience of a mental health problem can share their story, connect with others, and access Mind’s wider information and resources.”

3. Access online resources

If you’re looking for more information to help you look after yourself and your mental health at home, there are a number of brilliant (and free) online resources which could help, including the NHS Every Mind Matters hub.

Perkins explains: “On the Every Mind Matters website, there are lots of practical tips and advice for people who are struggling right now. People can answer five simple questions on the free NHS-approved Mind Plan and will get a personalised action plan to help them deal with stress and anxiety, boost their mood, sleep better and feel more in control.”

She continues: “The Every Mind Matters Covid-19 hub also includes practical tips and support on how adults can deal with uncertainty, how to cope with money and job worries and how to look after both their own and their family’s mental wellbeing while staying at home.”

Mental health charities such as Mind, The Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness also have great resources on their websites – and local charities will also be able to signpost you to further advice and support.

To find out more about the free mental health and wellbeing resources you can access at home during the pandemic, you can check out our guide.

4. Seek support

If you feel like you’re unable to cope on your own, you should consider seeking professional support from a trained professional.

“While loved ones can offer emotional support, it’s important to recognise when you might need support from mental health services,” Weatherley explains.

“If you notice changes to your feelings, thoughts and behaviours that last longer than two weeks, keep returning or are having an impact on your daily life, talk to your GP who can help outline the support that’s available. Most GP surgeries are offering appointments via phone or online, so check to see what they can do.”

Perkins echoes this sentiment: “For those who are struggling with anxiety or depression, NHS talking therapies are here to help and have been open throughout the pandemic. Speak to your GP for a referral, or you can self-refer.”

She continues: “NHS mental health staff can provide care via phone or online from the comfort of your home, and face-to-face appointments can also be arranged in many areas. These services are a free and confidential way to get effective help.”

If you find yourself on a waiting list for help or simply want some more support while you wait for your first appointment, helplines are also a great place to turn. The people at the end of the phone may not be doctors and therapists, but they’re trained listeners who can help you to work through any difficult emotions and listen to what you’re going through. 

Mind’s Infoline (0300 123 3393) provides an information and signposting service from Monday-Friday 9am to 6pm (except for bank holidays), and if you need 24-hour support, call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. For more information about the different helplines that are available, you can check out the NHS website.

Seeking support privately is another route you might also consider. You can find out more about choosing a therapist and what to expect from therapy (both NHS and private) by checking out our articles. 

Although this isn’t a comprehensive list of everything you can do to look after your mental health after talking, it’s a great place to start if you’re not sure what to do next.

Remember: talking about how you’re feeling and sharing those emotions with others is incredibly brave, and although the road ahead might not always be easy, you’re on the right track. 

You can find additional support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website or visit the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations and the NHS Every Mind Matters resource hub.

For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected].

If your life is at risk and you feel unable to keep yourself safe, call 999 or go to A&E.

Images: Getty

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