Shhh – Just Listen

Listening

Most of us know someone who suffer from depression, anxiety or some other form of mental health problem. It can be hard to know exactly how to help these friends or family members and many of us feel, well, helpless. It’s hard to watch someone we love struggling with something for which there is no quick fix. However, there is one simple way in which all of us can be supportive without needing a background in psychology. Learn to listen.

I myself have been incredibly lucky and never suffered from any form of mental health problem. However, I have had friends who have been affected. More specifically, I have been someone whom they have come to, talked to and confided in. I became an excellent listener (I like to think, at least) after several years and several friends who were suffering. It wasn’t always easy but in hindsight I know I was an important part of their support systems when it came to dealing with their mental health problem. Here is some general advice which helped me help them.

Many people who are suffering from mental health issues such as depression feel overwhelmingly as if their thoughts and concerns are not important enough to be heard, so they internalise problems and keep concerns and feelings bottled up. This can make the problem worse and is certainly not healthy. As a friend, you should present yourself as someone to whom your friend can come and talk with, or even at, whenever they need to. Invite a conversation about mental health or tell your friend you have some concerns about them and want to help. Sometimes it is necessary for you to begin the conversation itself but if the subject is shut down, respect your friend’s wish not to talk about it – they may not be ready and pushing the conversation is detrimental. The most important thing you need to remember is not to be judgemental. Listen but don’t draw conclusions, make accusations or push them to get treatment.

Being a good friend to someone with mental health problems is both incredibly important for the sufferer but also demanding on you as a friend. Make sure you are taking good care of your own mental health and that the stress and responsibility of being there for your friend is not too much for you. If you’re not in a healthy state of mind yourself, how can you support someone else? The connection of these friendships, however, are so significant that they really are worth the effort if you feel capable. Friends are there for us to talk to, vent to and listen to. Those suffering from mental health problems often become the listeners and never actually speak about their own problems. If you know or suspect your friend is struggling with a mental health issue, encourage them to talk instead. All you have to do is listen. The simple act of listening is incredibly valued by people who, at times, may consider themselves invisible to society. It tells them you are there for them, that they are heard, and that you’re still their friend. Verbalise this last point often. Asking questions shows you are listening and taking in what you are being told, as well as displaying genuine interest and concern for your friend. Try to include them in your plans and social events, even if they repeatedly turn you down. Remind them you are thinking of them by checking in regularly to maintain that supportive presence.  

Alternatively, your friend might not want to talk about their problems at all. They might want to be distracted, to talk about something else, anything else. That’s fine too. Judge for yourself what you think is best for your friend but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’re not a professional, after all. What they really want is support from a genuine friend. And that’s exactly where you come in. It’s all part of the slow process which will lead, hopefully, to healing. Be cautious when it comes to giving advice – you’re not a professional. It’s also very important to keep private anything personal which your friend tells you. The fact that they are talking to you illustrates their trust. Don’t break that unless they mention suicide or self-harming behaviours – at this point you will need to contact a professional for your own friend’s safety.

Of course, this article has significantly simplified the wide range of mental health problems which people can suffer from. There are endless diagnoses and every person is different. However, the support of a friend seems to be universally accepted as important for people suffering from any type of mental health problem. It can, however, be useful for you to read up a little bit about mental health just so you are more aware of what your friend might be going through, particularly if they are reluctant to talk about it themselves.

The most important thing is for your friend to know you are still their friend, that you still care and that you are available to them whenever they need support. Make sure you verbalise this, tell them regularly and reassure them that their problems are something they should not only talk about but something you, as their friend, want to hear about. Be compassionate and available to talk or listen and, with your help, your friend can start to heal.

So what has this got to do with happiness and More Good Deeds? Well, previous articles have cited not only the importance of helping others in our quest for happiness but also the fact that doing good deeds needn’t cost the earth. Listening to a friend in need is a free, selfless good deed. It is an act of compassion and a vital part of your friend’s support system. We need people like this, like you, to help make the world a better, happier place.

Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.