Today is Time to Talk Day in Ireland, organised by the Green Ribbon Project
We’re making great strides in encouraging people with mental health difficulties, people who are struggling and people who are overwhelmed to reach out to someone and break the silence. From personal experience both as the reacher and the reachee, I wanted to share some tips on how to be reached out to.
The first step is Time
It can be difficult to open up to someone and this is doubly true if it’s the first time. Stops, starts and stutters can make you feel impatient as a listener. Take a breath and give the person some space to get their worries out.
If you’re worried about someone and want to ask them to open up, then don’t approach the conversation if you’re pressed for time. Clear some space. This is important!
Time to Listen
It’s time to talk, sure. But listening can be extremely difficult, especially when it’s to those deep dark thoughts that you never knew were festering. Jumping straight in with reassurances and advice is an instinct that is completely understandable, but sometimes the person just needs to really be listened to. Let them talk and open yourself to what they are saying. It’s really hard, but it’s REALLY important.
Time to Empathise
You might not understand what the person is going through. You might not see any reason for them to feel the way they do. You might feel you know *exactly* what they need to do to sort themselves out. But here’s the thing, it’s not your job to fix someone. Getting better, or even maintaining a level of mental health that will keep you alive and functioning, can be a long, hard, lonely slog that can only be undertaken by the person themselves.
A moment where someone is listening to you and telling you that they hear you and they are sorry that things are hard at the moment can be a valuable moment of connection and support. Don’t rush over it to get to the helping.
Time to Help
When someone has opened up to you, there *are* things you can do to help.
Rather than running straight in with suggestions and advice, ask the person what you can do to help. They might have some ideas or suggestions. They might be at a complete loss and be grateful for anything you can advise. ASK first.
Low mood, depression, anxiety are the conditions I have experience of, and I know that when I’m in the depths of them, EVERYTHING can be overwhelming. Offer to research counsellors, to attend the doctor with them, offer to come over and sit with them, offer to clean their kitchen or go for a walk. You may be rebuffed, but a sensitively-made offer to take something off the pile can make things seem a little easier.
If you know someone is having a hard time and they’ve opened up to you, it’s good to check in regularly. Not necessarily every day, but it’s very easy to drop off the radar completely when you’re feeling crap. It’s natural for us to retreat to lick our wounds in private, but it can be hard to rejoin the human race when all ties feel like they’ve been severed.
It’s also important because opening up to someone can feel like a real risk. Keeping the channels of communication open shows it was a risk worth taking.
Time to NOT DO THESE THINGS
- Don’t tell someone that “all they need to do is xxx”
- Don’t tell someone there’s nothing wrong with them
- Don’t tell someone to snap out of it.
- Don’t tell someone they’ve no reason to be depressed
- Don’t tell someone they need therapy/medication
- Don’t tell someone they DON’T need therapy/medication
- Don’t tell someone people have it worse
- Don’t tell someone to “man up”
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional. This post is based on my own experience. If you have any other tips (as someone on either end of the process) I’d love for you to share them.