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Just Stopping And Listening Can Help Those Dealing With Mental Health Problems

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 15 Jan 2021 15:08
Just Stopping And Listening Can Help Those Dealing With Mental Health ProblemsShutterstock

Around the world, 792 million people are affected by mental health issues, many of whom could be helped in one simple way: by being listened to.

While you’d expect those with mental health conditions to need advice from healthcare professionals and therapists, you don’t actually need any qualifications to help someone struggling; simply taking time to listen to someone could prove to be life-saving.

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But listening to someone in need isn’t as easy as sitting there and appearing to be paying attention, it’s about really homing in on what they’re saying – no matter how difficult it may be to hear – and being there for them.

Many of us are likely to turn to family and friends for support, but there are external sources you can contact too, one being Samaritans.

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James Downes, a volunteer listener for the charity, highlighted the fact that everyone can listen well and help someone, but many people don’t have the confidence to bring up tough discussions.

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James explained to UNILAD, ‘I think a lot of people don’t have the tools or the confidence to know how to approach the subject [of mental health], and to feel like they’re going to do a good job and that they’re not going to put their foot in it.

‘You don’t need to be a specialist. I think that’s one thing people are concerned about – not knowing enough about mental health to talk about it. We can all relate to feeling difficult emotions and you only have to relate to someone on a human level to be able to offer them support.’

A typical response to someone expressing that they’re mentally struggling is trying to come up with a resolution to fix the issue – but a lot of the time, the person you’re listening to isn’t expecting you to wave a magic wand for you to take all their problems away.

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Speaking about his own experiences, James said:

Very often we fall into working out how we want to help people really, really actively – and that’s not a bad thing – but actually, there’s a stage before that that’s so important where people need to feel heard, when they don’t they can feel so lonely and isolated.

I think I realised that we really need spaces like that; where we can be listened to rather than rushing to intervene, and just hold what you’re saying rather than wanting to change it. Sure, I wanted to change how I felt, but if I didn’t go through how I felt, then I wouldn’t have gotten to the other side of it.

Sophie Badman, another Samaritans volunteer, agreed with James on how frustrating it can be when someone attempts to fix your problems, when you simply want to talk about them.

Discussing why she became a volunteer, Sophie said, ‘The reason I became a volunteer is because a few years ago I struggled with my own mental health and Samaritans was like a lifeline to me. I used the email and the phone service.’

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She continued:

It was literally just having someone there to listen because the most frustrating thing in the world is, don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but when you’re speaking to them they’re always trying to fix you. It’s like, you don’t want to be fixed – you just want someone to listen.

Sophie went on to explain that one of the most frustrating things a family member told her to do when she was going through a tough time was to go make a cup of tea because that would make her feel better. For many people, suggesting such simple resolutions can make a person feel like their problems aren’t as big as they feel to them.

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There’s a lot of ways we’re all guilty of not properly listening to someone; whether it’s a conversation about mental health, or your partner ranting about their day at work. One habit is of focusing on what you want to say next, rather than hearing what the other person is saying.

James explained, ‘I think a lot of people listen waiting for their turn to speak. I do it all the time with my friends and I notice that I’m doing it. I start preparing what I’m going to say next, and that’s not the same as listening. Or, I select the bits that I’m interested in and don’t listen to the rest of it.’

He continued:

When you’re really listening you have to have the courage to sit with all of it, and not just the bits that you like. Even though there are uncomfortable parts, if you can feel a little bit uncomfortable with somebody then they’re not feeling like that alone. One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is giving them your time and attention.

James also homed in on the fact that not actually doing much can be extremely helpful to someone and ‘that you can make things better by doing nothing and just holding it and really showing that you care’.

He explained to UNILAD, ‘I think a lot of it is around that thing of not having to do as much as you think you need to do; it’s about the quality of what you’re doing and if you’re really showing that you’re listening and that you care.’

Sophie added that silence can be a ‘powerful tool’ too, as it allows the person opening up to you to bit quiet for a second and reflect on what they’ve said. Asking open questions and giving reassuring words can be helpful as well.

One person who found being properly listened to saved his life was Darran, who previously battled alcohol addiction. While suffering with addiction, Darran called the Samaritans several times for help and has since become a volunteer himself.

Discussing the first time he called the charity, Darran said, ‘I was sort of cautious about ringing the Samaritans – I wasn’t really sure what it was all about, and bear in mind I was heavy in addiction then, and I was cautious of what they were going to say.’

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‘I wasn’t after someone to cure me, I wasn’t after someone telling me what to do as I’d already had a lot of that from parents and various individuals – I just wanted someone to listen to me. It sounds cliché, but that’s literally all I wanted,’ he explained.

Darran said being listened to stopped him from taking his own life – something he’d attempted to do before.

He continued:

I don’t want to sound melodramatic but it certainly stopped me from doing anything, or taking my own life. I was in a really dark space and I’d tried [to take my own life] in the past, so it was a really massive thing for me to be able to talk to someone and have them listen. It really did save my life – I’m under no illusion of that.

Listening sounds like a simple task, but if done well and properly, it can really positively impact the person who’s opening up to you.

Supporting friends and family with mental health problems can be a difficult task, but giving them your time and ear is all you need to do. As James said, one of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is giving them your time and attention.

As well as listening, there are other ways you can support someone going through a hard time, which you can find out more about here.

On Monday, January 18, Samaritans are hosting its own ‘Brew Monday’ for Blue Monday – what’s said to be the most depressing day of the year – to encourage people to reach out to their loved ones through these difficult times. You can find out more about it here.

Anyone can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org for more information. 

This article is part of LadBible Group’s UOKM8? campaign. For more resources and information on mental health please visit www.ladbible.com/uokm8

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Featured, Health, Mental Health, Now