Why Mental Health Campaigns Should Focus More on Listening

I’m always frustrated at the huge focus of mental health campaigns on talking and the lack of emphasis on listening. Now don’t get me wrong, talking is so important, but I feel campaigns such as these leave too much responsibility on the person who is going through a tough time or is suicidal. By focusing only on talking, we can neglect to emphasize how important listening is. If you don’t have a good listener available to you, things can be extremely difficult.

A lot of people may be intimidated at the thought of listening to someone who is going through a tough time because they are afraid they might say the wrong thing. The first thing to know is to not be afraid. Most of the time you will say very little because your job as a listener is not to talk, but instead to provide a space for the person to do the talking.

I truly believe if we had more people consciously listening to others in distress we would have a lower suicide rate and a healthier nation. A good listener not only hears what is said but also hears what is not said. I definitely think there should be space in mental health campaigns for focusing on the art of listening.

Some tips on how to listen well:

  • Allow yourself to listen with an open heart with no judgement.
  • Don’t be afraid of a little silence as it is often needed for the person to open up and speak about what is going on for them openly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need to, but remember your job is to listen and not to talk.
  • Pay attention to body language as it can reveal a lot about how the person is feeling.

I have put together a little mnemonic to remind people how important it is to talk but also to listen.

TALK: Time, Ask, Listen, Keep trying.

T (TIME) — Make the time to speak to someone you are concerned about.

A (ASK) Ask them how they are and what you can do to support them during this tough time. Don’t be afraid to ask if they are suicidal if you feel they might be.

L (LISTEN) — It’s important to practice active listening during this time and this means paying close attention to them, listening to what they have to say without interrupting them or showing any judgement.

K (KEEP TRYING) — It may take the person a while to trust you enough to speak openly. This is perfectly normal so don’t let this put you off. Keep trying!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

Girl in profile. Double exposure of young woman and forest.

The Hard Truths About Life With Mental Illness

OK, real talk. I’m tired of fighting. I’m tired of feeling shitty all the time. I’m tired of always reading the situation, watching and waiting for anxiety to pounce. I’m tired of depression ruining a good week. I’m tired of feeling short-tempered and cranky because my moods change so frequently and intensely. I hate that [...]
Close up on a young woman's hands as she is sewing

The Delicate Tapestry of Mental and Chronic Illnesses

Most of the time, I write about what it’s like to be chronically ill. It’s easy for me to write about being chronically ill. In 2014, I was diagnosed with hemiplegic migraines, which has since turned into neuropathies, gastroparesis, severe fibromyalgia, a balance disorder and possibly genetic disorders. I know chronically ill all too well. [...]
woman bringing a man a meal

'No Casserole' Illness

Losing the battle with my morning headache, I awoke late one morning to see this email from a complete stranger (names have been changed to protect anonymity). “My 26 year old daughter [Mary] is back in the hospital… As a parent I feel so helpless. Thank you for helping to bring it out of the [...]
nurse writing on patients chart.

What It's Like to Be a Health Care Professional With Mental Illness

I find myself juggling between the therapist’s chair and the patient’s chair. I know, it may seem odd. I’ve always heard if you lived with any kind of mental illness you wouldn’t be suitable to be a health care professional. That’s what I was told in college when I was studying to be an occupational therapist. [...]