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The One Question I Wish People Would Ask More as Someone With a Mental Illness

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When was the last time you asked someone how they’re doing? Did you genuinely mean it? Did you take the time to listen?

Many may not realize it, but these three words can make a huge impact on the day of someone who has a mental illness. One year ago, I made a commitment to myself to to ask those around me how they are doing, at least one person (strangers, friends, family members, coworkers) — every single day. However, it’s important not only to ask the question, but to genuinely listen to the answer. Watch their body language, their facial expressions, their words, their tone. It can say it all.

The reactions I receive when asking this question are somewhat surprising to me. In my personal experience, the responses go one of two ways: The first and most common reaction is something like, “Good, thanks” — simple and quick. The other common reaction is, “I did this and this today, I’ve been really busy” — thinking I asked them what they did today or what they are currently doing, not realizing I just asked how they are feeling.

These days, a lot of conversations are in the form of texting, and people sometimes think they can see and understand all of what a person truly feels because of social media. Or we are wrapped up in our own lives, and we don’t take the time to ask others how they are feeling (I’ve been there!). Or maybe we feel as though expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness or burdensome to others (it’s really not). Either way, the question, “How are you?” is often used in passing, and it’s not being taken seriously enough, in my opinion.

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask someone how they are doing.

As someone who lives with a mental health condition and has faced many difficult times, including the feeling of being completely alone, I really needed someone to ask me to how I was doing in a way that made me feel as though they genuinely cared. This past week, I have experienced a lot of emotional and physical pain. I believe some people could tell. I have voiced my feelings to a few, but not one person has genuinely asked me how I was doing… until today. My sister. I love her sweet heart. She must have sensed something all the way from Texas, because out of the blue I received a message asking me if I’m OK. It immediately put a smile on my face. (Thank you, sis!)

A couple weeks ago, about 300 people were laid off from our company due to closed facilities. It was a difficult time for everyone affected by it. One of the gentlemen given an end date with the company sat near me, and although we were not close, I still wanted to make sure he was OK. I went into his office and asked how he was doing. His response went something like this: Oh you know – trying to get my tasks done today, I’m swamped.

I responded with, “OK, let me ask again. How are you? Are you doing OK?”

He looked shocked, as though he had never heard the question before. He sat back in his chair and said, “I’m stressed out. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have options, but I need to think about which option I will take. It’s sad. Thank you so much for asking.” I sensed appreciation in his tone after our heartfelt conversation.

Last year, someone I was working with was admitted to the psychiatric hospital for self-harm. She was 15 years old. She was such a bright young girl, and I loved bonding with her. I received a phone call from her mother one evening, who said she was “contemplating” on taking her daughter to the hospital. I immediately advised that she admit her or I would. She needed help and was apparently in pain. I asked her mom for the information of which hospital she was admitted to, and her mom responded in shock: “Why?” I said, “Because I am going down there to visit her. I can meet you there if you’d like?”

When I appeared at the hospital to visit her, this young girl was completely shocked and cried as she grabbed onto me. I asked her why she was crying, and she told me she had never had a visitor before (it wasn’t her first attempt). In fact, most of her roommates hadn’t either. We sat in her room, and I listened to her talk for a couple hours. I gave her the best advice I could about coping skills and reassured her that she wasn’t alone. I learned so much that day, especially the importance of empathy.

When someone you know is in a hospital bed bleeding or has other signs of a visible injury or illness, people will go to their bedside in panic or worry, asking with sincerity if they are OK. But what about our invisible illnesses?

It is important to reach out and ask others how they are doing. You could save a life with one simple question and taking the time to listen. And when you do, remember this:

Their feelings are their feelings. They matter. Do not dismiss, disagree or tell them they shouldn’t feel the way they do.

This is so important to understand. This goes for all circumstances, not just people with mental illnesses.

I’ll end it with this — how are you doing? Respond below or email me if you need someone to talk to. Help is always out there.

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

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

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: July 19, 2016
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