The Importance of (Truly) Listening

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

September 10th is Suicide Prevention Day. And while these dedicated times are very necessary reminders to have an awareness of suicide prevention and mental health, I believe it is also important to keep the conversation going and to also to attempt to discuss the many complexities of what’s involved in discussing mental health.

Firstly, if you or anyone you know is in crisis and experiencing despair, Crisis Services Canada can provide immediate support for you.

The more that all of us are talking openly about our mental health struggles and difficulties in general, hopefully more people will feel that it’s possible to talk about experiencing deep despair.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that roughly 50% to 75% of those who attempt suicide, have talked about plans or their desire to end their life. 

As important as it is to encourage people to talk about their struggles, it is also important to know how to support people when they are struggling.  

This is a much more complicated discussion to have because many people have difficulty talking about suicide and mental health difficulties, but it can be helpful to those struggling for someone to engage them openly and directly.

And this is where it becomes difficult, many of us don’t learn or know how to actively listen and support another person with their needs.

Often, when people are looking to get support from a friend or loved one, they can be met with, “Don’t feel like that” or “You should (or shouldn’t) do this.”

In regards to suicide prevention, if someone you care about is experiencing an extreme level of distress, do your best to fully listen and not to judge (eg – “Don’t feel like that” can be heard as a judgement). And find the most appropriate resource for the person’s needs. 

TWO SPECIFIC THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

If the level of distress or crisis is at a very urgent and immediate state, please reach out to someone who is specially trained in crisis work who can be accessed through crisis lines, centres and hospitals.

Otherwise, seeking out a helping professional who specializes in working with those who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or who are experiencing clinical depression, substance dependencies, abuse or other specific difficulties, a longer term treatment may be helpful.

But know that there’s someone out there that can provide support and be a good fit for their needs, and that no one has to feel alone.

Active Listening

Whether we are looking to support others more effectively or because we are interested in developing better overall life skills, learning the ability to listen actively can be valuable.

Active listening is the ability to fully concentrate, understand and be able to respond based on the other person’s perspective. 

The hallmarks of active listening are:

  • To listen without judgement IS a big one, and it’s definitely not an easy thing to do
  • Paying full attention
  • Asking relevant questions
  • Being able to repeat back what the person has said from THEIR POV
  • Also being able to connect their emotional experience to what they are expressing in words
  • True curiosity and understanding that your context or way of thinking may not be the same as the person you are talking to 

Active listening is something that can be learned, but takes practice to adapt.

Here are some video resources which speaks to the importance of active listening and how you can further develop your skills:

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