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Why Mental Health Campaigns Should Focus More on Listening

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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.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: January 11, 2017
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