What on earth do I say now?
Talking to someone when they’re down, blue, low, depressed, or even suicidal is hard. You can be left not knowing what to say, not knowing how to react, frightened you might say something wrong in case you make the problem worse.
Conversations about mental health aren’t easy, but the most important things in life are never easy, are they? The big decisions, the most important matters always take thought and careful consideration.
Easy, is dismissing it. Easy is deciding not to try to have that conversation with someone who you think may be struggling. Especially, when you’ve been told “I’m OK”, or “it’s nothing”. Sometimes it feels like a whole lot less trouble to just tell the other person to let you know if they want to talk. Of course, someone who’s struggling will find it even harder than you to take that first step.
So what do you do?
I’ve misled you a little with the very first word in this blog, “talking”. The truth is, the key word here is “listening”. As someone who’s been through the ups and down of life, love and lockdown, often without rhyme or reason, I cannot tell you how valuable it is to just be able to talk to someone who is willing to listen.
And when I say listen, I mean truly listen. Not just processing someones words so you can formulate your next response. Listening so that the other person feels heard and if possible, understood (though if I understood my own head at times I probably wouldn’t need to talk to anyone).
You don’t need to give an answer.
You don’t need to offer advice or reassurance.
And I know how hard this can be. I’ve made these mistakes myself time and time again when trying to be there for someone. My natural reaction is to offer advice when someone tells me something I think I know something about, often through personal experience, like parenting young children. I caught myself doing exactly this recently when talking to a friend and kicked myself afterwards for doing it.
There’s a 60 second Q&A on the BBC website on this (here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-57013126) and it’s worth having a look at. It may feel rudimentary to some, but I found it useful.
Of course, every situation, every person and every relationship is unique. I can’t tell you what (not) to say to your friends or loveds one any more than I can tell you what somebody else is feeling, but the principles remain, if you want to help someone, if you feel they might need someone to talk to, then first they need someone to listen.
So many people find it so hard to talk because they don’t believe anyone will truly listen and not judge them.
Get this right, and you may just be the person that someone feels they can call when they really need to, rather than doing something devastating.