2. What to do if you think someone is struggling
Many people worry that reaching out will be intrusive or make things worse. You’ll soon be able to tell if the person you’re speaking to isn’t comfortable or doesn’t want to have that kind of conversation. If they don’t want to open up, you’ll still have let them know you’re there for them.
Once someone starts to share how they’re feeling, it’s important to listen. This could mean not offering advice, not trying to identify what they’re going through with your own experiences and not trying to solve their problems. We’ve compiled some listening tips to help you give the best support you can.
SHUSH - active listening tips
Show you care
Focus on the other person, make eye contact, and put away your phone.
To really listen to someone, you need to give them your full attention, maintain eye contact and focus on them. Getting into the habit of doing this takes practice, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep trying, you’ll get there.
Try and keep a 'listening diary' for a week. Record when you've listened well by noting down one thing you've learned about the other person. Make a note of anything you found challenging or distracting.
It may take time and a few attempts before a person is ready to open up.
Listening well is about creating trust with the other person. They shouldn’t feel rushed, or they won’t feel it’s a safe environment. If the other person has paused in their response, wait a moment. It's important to remember it might take them some time to get their words out or express what they're feeling.
Through non-judgemental listening and being patient, you’re allowing the person to relax into the conversation and to use it as a place to reflect or work through difficult emotions.
Use open questions
Use open questions that need more than a yes or no answer.
An open-ended question means not jumping in with your own ideas about how the other person may be feeling. Try not to ask questions that leads them to a particular answer, for example, instead of asking ‘have you had a bad week?’, try ‘what’s been going on for you this week?’. Being open-minded can encourage them to reflect, open up and talk. Remember, the conversation is a safe space you’re holding for them, and nothing they say is right or wrong.
Avoid questions that close down the conversation. For example, instead of ‘are you OK?’, try ‘how are you feeling today?’ and follow up with ‘tell me more…’.
Say it back
Check you’ve understood, but don’t interrupt or offer a solution.
Repeating something back to someone is a really good way to let them know you’re listening. You can check to see that you’re hearing what they want you to hear, and not putting your own interpretation on the conversation.
Try not to be put off by a negative response and remember, you don’t have to fill every silence.
You might feel uncomfortable asking someone how they feel, but you’ll soon realise if someone feels uncomfortable and isn’t ready to talk about it. Just let them know you're there if they ever want to talk.
You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to listen and how, sometimes, it is exactly what somebody needs to be able to share what’s on their mind.
Help someone open up when something’s up
If you’re worried someone is suicidal, it’s okay to ask them directly. Research shows that this helps - because it gives them permission to tell you how they feel, and shows that they are not a burden.
How to support someone with suicidal thoughts
What Mike found helpful
Mike found it helpful when his wife, Linda, used humour when she was supporting him
Mike, was supported by his wife, Linda