L. J. Isham once stated, “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” Just as this quote implies, being able to share the deepest parts of ourselves and to know that we have been heard is such a powerful thing. It is also very powerful to know that we have the ability to help our loved ones heal as well. Truly listening to others is not always easy, but there are different things we can do to help make it easier.
L: Learn. If you are concerned about a friend or loved one and think they might be struggling, it is important to ask them about it and then learn about what they are going through. You can start the conversation by asking a simple question like “What are you going through?” or “What is going on?”. Either one of those questions is a great place to start as they are both open-ended and allow for your loved one to open up and share how they are really feeling.
I: Instill. Whenever you are having a conversation with a loved one and they are sharing with you how they are feeling or what they are going through, be sure to instill hope in them. Let them know you are there for them and that you care for them. Also, if they are really struggling with their mental health, be sure to instill in them that help is available, and they are not alone.
S: Stay silent. A lot of the times silence is the best solution. Especially if you are having a conversation with someone and they are sharing their struggles or hardships they are going through. As mentioned above, many times it is really important for people to feel heard. People feel heard when there is someone present, simply listening to them. Listening does take a conscious effort, but you do not always have to say something in response. Let the individual share as much as they feel comfortable sharing.
T: Talk. Then of course on the opposite side of silence, there is talking. Talking is also an important part of listening. But it does not always have to be full sentences in response. It could be a simple “mhm” or some sort of acknowledgment of what they have said. It is important to let the individual you are having a conversation with know you are in fact listening. If you are talking, be aware of what you are saying and the tone in which you say it. Try to not talk too much about yourself, especially if the individual is in crisis. If the individual you are talking to is in a mental health crisis, you want to be sure you are talking about what THEY are going through, not what you have gone through. And make sure there is no judgement in your tone. You do not want to add to their pain or guilt.
E: Encourage. Whenever you are listening to a loved one, you have the power to encourage and lift them up. If someone has shared struggles they are going through, a few simple words of encouragement can go a long way.
N: Notice. Especially when talking to someone about their mental health, be sure to be aware of what they are saying. If you notice that they are really struggling and need help, be sure to connect them to resources. You can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 if you are not sure what to do in a situation as well.
We all have the power to make a difference in the lives of our friends, families, and loved ones. Simply by taking time to listen to what people are going through, we can help them to heal. If starting the conversation surrounding mental health is scary, be sure to go to www.moretomorrowsne.org with specific conversations starters and other helpful tips.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profit organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.