This campaign has done great things, and hopefully more and more start talking.
When we encourage the vulnerable to talk, let’s make sure the place where they might choose to do so – us – is very VERY safe. In other words, are we a good listener, or we just think we are?
I’m not a psychologist of any kind, but I have a test to suggest.
Next time someone is talking to us beyond just small talk, don’t say anything. Just use these three responses:
a. sound. (“uh huh.” “Hmmm.” “Ahh.” “Aww.” “Haha.” “UGH”)
c. “That sounds _____.” (great, terrible, exhausting, etc.) – important thing about this c. is to keep it to these three words.
Even if they ask us a question or ask for advice, as long as they don’t completely finish the story and ask us to start a new story, we do our best to keep our answers shortest and put it back to them.
“So I don’t know what to do. What would you do?”
“Sounds confusing and terrifying.”
The test is over when you start thinking about what you’d say if it weren’t for this test.
or about what a perfect solution you have for her problem.
or about that other person you know who had a similar situation.
or about that friend of yours who even had it worse/better.
or how you’d have NOT done the first thing that got her in the situation.
or how you’re wasting your time listening to such a trivial story.
or about how justified for you to offer that story of someone else with a similar hobby. It makes us feel connected, doesn’t it!
It’s also over is you zone out and stop listening.
How long did you last?
Did it end by you breaking one of the rules above,
or did it end by your friend turning to you, possibly hours later, wide-eyed and awe-struck, looking you right in the eyes and exclaim “THANK YOU FOR LISTENING” like this is the first time she feels heard?
Clearly, we have work to do, don’t we. Saying “Let’s Talk” is only a start for those that are friends of those who suffer from mental illness.
NB: Stop the “test” as soon as you realize it’s not the right time for it as the test itself could be distraction. e.g. the person coming to you is distressed. e.g. the friend is asking you to call 911 because they are feeling suicidal. e.g. a friend is coming to you to brainstorm with you or “pick your brains.”
P.S. “Listening,” as in “active listening” and other techniques, do require the listener to participate and speak. In many cases, a 50/50 share of talk time is advocated. My “test” above is really just a test to see if we have the ability to just listen without distracted by our own thoughts.