On International Men’s Day, we’re encouraging men to make an effort and touch base with their mates and family by offering a sympathetic ear to anyone they think might need one.
Opening up and talking about our concerns and feelings can have a genuinely therapeutic effect. However, many of us – men in particular – can struggle to talk about our problems; needing help can be perceived as a sign of weakness. Articulating our inner concerns, fears and thoughts is often a challenge, especially if we’re not sure how these will be received or interpreted. Reaching out, either by sharing our own problems or acting as a sounding board for others in need of help, is a simple way of easing our worries.
The ability to listen, to take in and digest what we’re hearing, is a vital tool when it comes to supporting those around us. Listening effectively is invaluable, benefitting ourselves and others. On International Men’s Day, we’re encouraging men to make an effort and touch base with their mates and family by offering a sympathetic ear to anyone they think might need one.
Here are a few straightforward steps to get started:
1. Look for the signs
If we suspect someone may be experiencing a mental health issue, mental illness or having suicidal thoughts, talking to them about it may really help their recovery. On the other hand, if friends or loved ones don’t tell us something’s bothering them, how are we supposed to know?
Of course, sometimes people will send out signals, signals that are clear if we know what to look out for.
Here are some of the ways that people signal that they may need help:
Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, like “Oh, nobody loves me” or “I’m a waste of space.”
Losing interest in their appearance.
Using drugs and/or alcohol as a means of comfort.
Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits.
Being uncharacteristically clumsy or accident prone.
Making leading statements, like “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through” or “I can’t catch a break.
2. Start positive conversations about mental health
If we are worried about someone’s mental health, starting the conversation may not be as difficult as we think. We might be worried that the other person doesn’t want to talk about their mental health. If they don’t, that’s OK – we can’t force them to open up. Starting that conversation is, nevertheless, important and can really help improve someone’s life.
Demonstrate some understanding and tact, and there’s a better chance that someone will engage with us. These useful phrases might help get things started:
“Are you ok?”
“Is there anything you want to talk about?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Why don’t we have a coffee and talk about it?”
“I’ve been a bit worried about you.”
“I’d really like to help.”
Avoid responses that reject how anyone is feeling, lessen their experiences or try to alter their view of the situation. For example:
“It’s not that bad.”
“Things will get better.”
“How could you be so selfish?”
The latter reactions may make the person feel misunderstood and more isolated. Nobody expects us to have all the answers; that doesn’t mean we’re not helping.
3. Listen effectively
Given that we take in the spoken word at a much slower rate than we think, it is only natural that we struggle to concentrate fully on what other people are saying. That said, once we’ve taken the key first step of starting a conversation with some open-ended questions, the next part is easy.
The art of active listening is based on the three Rs: repeat, reflect, respond.
Repeating the things we’ve been told demonstrates, at the very least, that we’re attuned to what we’re hearing. Summarising the other person’s statements, or repeating a word or phrase, prompts them to go on, safe in the knowledge that we are engaged listeners.
We can maintain the conversation by reflecting on what we’ve heard, offering some basic insights into the other person’s experiences. If they gloss over important details, we can try asking “Why not tell me more about that?” It is an approach helps us clarify things for everyone involved.
Responding to what we’re being told underlines our interest. “That must have been terrible” or “I’m sorry to hear you’ve had an awful time” are straightforward, supportive statements. Equally, non-verbal responses – nodding our heads, maintaining direct eye contact and staying quiet while the other person talks – also indicate our attention.
What we say shouldn’t influence what the other person has to say. It just encourages them to talk. Let them express their feelings and listen carefully, without judgement, to what they’re saying.
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