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Why It's So Important to Listen If Someone Tells You About Their Mental Illness

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There is nothing more frustrating than people not listening to you. I mean actively listening, when their body language matches their facial expressions. Where they don’t interrupt you and make eye contact with you while you speak. I don’t tell my story or speak about my depression to that many people, and if I do I gloss over most of it. It’s not because I am ashamed, but because I believe most people don’t want to know — they are just asking to be polite.

You might know the kind of people I am talking about: the ones whose eyes gloss over before you have even finished the first sentence. The ones who walk into another part of the house but say “I am still listening, keep talking!” The ones who blatantly interrupt you, or worse, make patronizing agreement noises while looking at their phone or staring into space.

Being able to speak to people openly about mental illness is cathartic for the person telling the story, if someone is genuinely interested and cares about you and wants to know. To everyone else who is just making conversation, please heed this advice (and I don’t believe I am the only person with mental illness who thinks this).

Before you ask somebody (who you know struggles with depression) how they are — make sure you really want to know the answer and really want to know how they are because you genuinely care. I believe there is nothing worse than telling somebody how you feel with total honestly (which takes a lot of courage in the first place), only to be met with an inactive listener whose body language and verbal actions are completely incoherent. And when somebody finishes telling you how they are, please don’t reply with something like, “You should be thankful, other people have it worse.”

For people like me, who don’t talk to that many people about their struggles, a person who doesn’t listen makes me feel as if I shouldn’t be sharing my story. It makes me doubt myself, and it makes me anxious and worried I burden people.

Listening is an art form. Not listening is not only incredibly rude, but it can be dehumanizing, as it makes you feel like you aren’t worth the time, effort, or air you breathe.

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Thinkstock photo via Ridofranz

Originally published: June 27, 2017
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