Actively listening is a vital skill when supporting someone who is brave enough to open up about their mental health. Often we want to just solve someone’s problems, but just being still and listening can be a tremendous help initially. Find our top listening tips below, and take a look at our resources page which you might also find useful.
When someone is ready to open up to you, be present. Switch off all distractions and give them your full attention. If sitting face to face feels too intense, suggest going for a walk or a drive.
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Give the person space to process their words. Allow for silences. Trying to problem solve can feel invalidating or belittling at times – so for now, just listen.
To show the person you are fully engaged and understanding what they’re saying, use reflective words and phrases occasionally. ‘It sounds to me like…’ or ‘What I am hearing you say is…’ are good examples of this.
It is vital that we validate the person’s emotions. Even if those words are hurtful, or to you seem exaggerated – those feelings will be very real for the person in question. Phrases like ‘I can see why you would feel that way’ or even ‘Yes, that really is sh*t’. This is a huge part of gaining trust.
Everything may seem hopeless for this person at the moment. Gently instill hope by reassuring them. It can and will get better. You could say things like ‘I am here now, you are not in this alone’. Find something for them to be hopeful for and highlight it – be it family, friends or a life change like new home or leaving school/university.
It takes unspeakable courage and strength to open up about your mental health. This is a huge step in their recovery, and it may have saved their life. Show that person how thankful you are that they trusted you enough to share their story. Remind them of how strong and brave they are.
You have done an amazing job in holding space for the person – but you are not alone in this, and are not responsible for their mental health care and recovery. Help them to navigate their next steps on their journey. Ask them to contact their GP and arrange an appointment, and give them the list of helplines found on our website.
Show the person that you care by checking in with them following your chat. Ask if they have called a helpline or their GP as you have discussed. If they need any more resources, you can signpost them to the link below.
You, sweet soul, have done a phenomenal job in helping a person today. But these conversations do take their toll. We need you well – like oxygen masks on a plane, we must look after our own needs first or we cannot help others. After all, we cannot pour from an empty cup. You can contact one of the helplines at anytime to decompress, and take a look at some self-care tips below. You deserve it.
You are unable to listen properly if you are busying yourself, put your phone away, stop what you are doing, give your time and be still.
Often we want to interrupt, give our opinions or try and offer solutions, but this isn’t the time for you, you might cut them off just as they were about to disclose something really important.
Try not to rush someone into giving you all the information. This is going to be really hard for them and it is important to let them tell you how they are feeling in their own time.
It can be distressing to hear some thoughts that a loved one is having, but remaining calm is really important. This way they’re more likely to open up to you in the future knowing they’re not distressing you.
Knowing they’ve now told you how they are feeling might make them feel vulnerable, be kind and supportive to them and don’t judge them.