You are not expected to be an expert, have all the answers or be able to solve anyone else’s problems. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is let someone know you are there for them and simply listen. Being there for people, and offering a listening ear when they need to talk, will make a big difference for them.
Take your lead from the person themselves and ask how you can help
If you think that someone might be experiencing a difficulty, make it clear that you’ve noticed that they don’t seem like their usual self and suggest that if they ever want to talk that you’ll be there.
If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, they might not. But just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important.
Take the pressure off yourself by not trying to rush to find solutions or comparisons
We often fall into the trap of jumping straight in with something positive or wanting everything to be ‘okay’ but what the other person really needs is to be listened to. It’s okay not to have answers and to say that you don’t. Just reassure them that you will be there to support them no matter what.
It doesn’t always have to be a big conversation about mental health
There are lots of small ways of showing support – just be yourself and listen. Send a text or just ask someone ‘how they’re doing’ – and mean it. Little things can make a big difference to someone.
Try avoid clichés
Phrases like ‘Cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘Pull yourself together’ definitely won’t help the conversation! Being open minded, non-judgemental and listening will.
How to be a Good listener
Probably one of the most useful ways you can help someone is by really listening to what they need to say. Sometimes we hold back from giving someone the opportunity to talk about what’s bothering them because we feel an expectation to solve the problem. In reality, friends often simply need to be able to put into words the difficult thoughts and feelings they’ve been experiencing.
Active listening involves really trying to understand what the other person is saying, without imposing our own expectations or judgements.
When you do find yourself actively listening to a friend, family or colleague, acknowledge at the end what it has meant to you that they have spoken with you. It can be the hardest thing in the world to open up to someone else, and it’s a privilege when they do.
Active Listening Tips
- Encourage: By using encouragements such as “I see” , “yes”, and “okay”, you’re making it easier for the other person to continue to talk and letting them know that you’re paying attention to what they’re saying.
- Reflect words: Repeat back to the person what you’ve just heard them say. E.g. “I’m really struggling” could be followed up by you with “So you’re finding it a real struggle at the moment”. Be sure to use the exact words that they have used. Sometimes people are surprised to hear their own words reflected back to them.
- Reflect meaning: Take an opportunity to reflect back what you understand them to be saying, using your own words. E.g. “So you’re telling me that you’re really stressed out at the moment” . This allows the other person to confirm that you understand what they’re telling you, or to correct you, if you’re wrong.
- Ask clarifying questions: Ask questions to deepen your understanding of what they’re saying to you. E.g. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this course”, could lead to a clarification like: “are you thinking of deferring?”
- Be present: Be aware of how you’re feeling in the situation and how you’re reacting to what you’re being told. Are you anxious, sad, hopeful, confused? It’s likely that the other person is feeling some of this too. Don’t be afraid to name your own feelings, as it may also help your friend to feel understood.
- Remember non-verbals: Don’t forget about the non-verbal communication that’s going on between the two of you. Most of what we communicate to others is through our non-verbal actions, rather than our words. You’ll pick up a lot on how your friend is feeling from their body language. Are they making eye contact? Are they fidgeting? Try to make eye contact during the conversation, and make note if your friend isn’t able to hold eye contact.