How to Open Up A Conversation Around Mental Heath | A Q&A with Hayley Mulenda

Matt Palmer 23 November 2018

After nearly committing suicide in 2016, Hayley used her personal experiences to become a passionately active advocate for mental health .

We had a chat with her to better understand how the increasing issue of mental health is affecting people today and, more importantly, the steps we can all take to help.

You often speak about your personal journey, how important is it for people to use their own experiences as a positive message to help others?

I believe it’s very important. Humans connect by relation. If you share something that I can relate to, I am instantly interested. Everybody has a story to tell, some stories carry joy, some carry pain, but every story carries a lesson. That’s the whole point behind a story - the meaning.

Many people feel they are facing things alone when they’re not. Stories can bring hope to the hopeless and give a voice to the voiceless.

What more can we do to open up the conversation around mental health?

I think one way we can open the conversation up around mental health is understanding that there is power in vulnerability. Not many people see the power in sharing their weaknesses, trials and tribulations but if there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s feelings. Everyone can relate with emotions, everyone can relate to having a stressful moment, or experiencing sadness. I think creating a space where people can be vulnerable and share their experiences is actually healthy.

I also think it’s about showing support. It’s important to show support and extend a helping hand regardless whether someone looks happy or not. Just because they’re smiling doesn’t mean they’re okay.

Understanding and dealing with mental health issues is of increasing importance, should we also be focusing more on the prevention of these issues?

They always say, “prevention is better than cure”, however; many mental health issues are triggered by events that we may not have control over, but we do have control over our reaction.

I think it’s important we teach around scenario. Scenarios such as break ups, death, work stress, university stress, school stress, family breakdowns. Even though we experience different scenarios some things can go into similar categories and by teaching prevention according to the “cause” and not necessarily the effect can be more comforting.

For example, instead of ‘five ways to be happy in the morning’, it could be ‘five ways to prevent procrastination whilst dealing with a break up whilst studying’. There’s always someone who can share their experiences and be specific which can be more beneficial.

What steps should companies be taking to ensure the physical and mental well-being of their employees?

  1. Weekly check-ins
  2. Create support groups
  3. Bring in external speakers who can share their story to inspire their employees
  4. Create a culture that involves fun (Google is a great example of this)
  5. Create an open space, where people feel comfortable to share what they’re going through rather than bottling it up.

And if someone had concerns for a friend or colleague and wanted to help, what would be your advice to them?

I would give three simple tips…

  1. Listen: Do not assume what anyone is going through, wait until they tell you and be attentive
  2. Be supportive: Not everyone wants to open up at first but give them time. They first need to know that there is someone who they can trust, who will support them and be there for them once they’ve actually opened up. So, it’s important they see the support first.
  3. Offer to do an activity with them: Doing activities can help people get things off their mind. It could be something as simple as Sudoku, but the aim is to take stress away from them.

Some great advice. So, what are you working on next?

So, I’ve been doing mental health talks and workshops in corporations and institutions across the UK. but I am realising the issue is also increasing in Africa. I have now spread my work out to East Africa, running workshops and talks in schools there.

Sounds like you’re continuing to do such important work Hayley. All the best with your talks and workshops, and thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us.

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