Mental Health Awareness: Help Through Listening
Trying to be available to support and help your friends, family, and others when you are aware that they are struggling with their mental health can be very hard and confusing but mutual support is powerful. If someone close to you appears to need help, even seemingly small things can be of help such as just being available to offer practical support, offer mindful assistance, or even dropping off groceries, particularly if they live alone.
One of the most powerful ways to support someone who is anxious or depressed (or has another mental illness), is to actively engage with them and listen to what they have to say and what is concerning them. It is also a good idea to educate yourself on these mental illnesses, improve your mental health awareness and help them research the professional support that is available. Follow this up by encouraging them to reach out to what is available.
It may sound bizarre to some, but listening is a skill, and so I wanted to give my advice based on my years in business to business sales because regardless whether you are listening to someone about a business deal or you are helping someone face their mental health problems, it is the same techniques and is called active listening:
Face-to-face contact is the best and you should make eye contact with the person, but do not stare. If face-to-face contact cannot be achieved due to the Covid-19 situation or distance etc. you might be able to talk to people using video chat as an alternative which these days is very common. Whether face-to-face or using a video chat, avoid looking down as this can signal you want to end the conversation and if the person is struggling with mental health can make them feel unheard.
Body language is an important aspect of communication and mental health awareness. Be aware of the facial expressions, tone of voice and gestures of the person you are speaking to as it may be that they are picking up on your own body language. Avoid crossing your arms and legs as this can make you look defensive. Lean forwards slightly to show you are listening.
Demonstrate that you are listening
Nodding your head, smiling, and making noises like ‘yes’ and ‘uh-huh’ show you are listening. This encourages the person speaking to continue as they feel more comfortable. Don’t look at your phone, fidget or stare at your watch because this is a clear sign that you don’t care, regardless of whether you do or not. Its perception.
You probably don’t like being interrupted mid-sentence. Neither does anyone else, particularly if they feel vulnerable because of their mental health. Allow them to finish telling you their thoughts. This will help you understand what they are saying and encourage them to feel that you are really listening to them.
Try not to react emotionally; You may have educated yourself about the signs of mental health problems, which is very beneficial as mentioned above, but try not to assume an understanding of the person’s personal feelings or views and don’t guess what is going to be said next. Focus on listening.
Don’t impose your solutions
When someone is suffering from mental health, sometimes all they want is to get their feelings off their chest and have someone listen without judgement and offer that comfort that somebody cares. If they ask for your opinion or you feel you need to offer a solution that could help, present it carefully and as a possibility, not a requirement.
If you are trying to plan your next part of the conversation, you won’t be able to listen attentively.
Stay focused and ask questions
It is important to remember what the person is saying. It might be useful to repeat some key aspects of what they say in your head if you are having trouble keeping up. It is okay to ask for clarification to make sure you understood a statement correctly. For example, wait until they have finished speaking and simply ask something like “I’m not sure I understood what you said about…”. Open-ended questions should be used when possible. For example, ‘How did that make you feel?’.
Paraphrase and summarise
Repeating, paraphrasing or summarising what has been said shows you have been listening. It also allows the speaker to correct any misunderstanding or explain anything they have forgotten to mention.
Examples of what to say
If you are talking to a friend, family member, or colleague and they are showing signs of mental health or worries due to a recent situation, try to reassure them. Encouraging them to say, step away from constant reminders on social media, and focus on positives that may reassure them. If you think or they say they have been or are struggling with their mental health through anxiety, depression, or other then we need to be careful how to respond and there are a few examples below.
- I can see that must have been difficult for you…
- Tell me what I can do now to help you?
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you….
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help….
- We all go through times like this. Just snap out of it you’ll be fine….
- I can’t really do anything about your situation….
- What’s wrong with you? Look on the bright side….
- It’s all in your head, honestly….
When someone is or might be experiencing mental illness, it is important to take them seriously. Allow them space and time to explain what is going on and how they feel. Avoid saying anything that might dismiss or downplay their feelings no matter how it seems to you because to them, it could be everything and that is what mental health is all about.
In summary, if you think someone you know has a mental illness, but aren’t sure, the years of research strongly suggests you should ask them directly, demonstrating that you are here to help.
Mental health awareness signs of mental illness include drug and alcohol abuse, being increasingly self-critical, unpredictable mood changes, and poor concentration. Other signs are irritability, illogical thinking, poor sleeping, and increased feelings of anger, apathy, or nervousness. However, not every change in behavior is a definite sign of mental illness.