This year, AFSP is urging people to reach out and have a #RealConvo with someone. Valencia Saint-Louis is a sophomore at Adelphi University, and a student ambassador for the I Am Acceptance project. Here, Valencia shares her thoughts and advice on how to help someone else open up about their mental health.
January 16, 2018 - “I’m your canvas. Paint me with your thoughts.”
I always say this to those I love and care for. What I mean is that if they have something on their mind, I’m more than happy to listen to any and everything they’re willing to share with me.
Often, the conversation starts with them saying something like:
“Sorry, I know this is sad but…”
“Sorry I don’t mean to put this on you but…”
“Sorry, this probably sounds really bad but…”
“Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
I let them know there’s nothing to be sorry about. I love to listen, and being a canvas for someone you love is rewarding.
But what if you’re not sure how to have a #RealConvo with them? Here are some tips that worked for me:
- Listen attentively.
Listening attentively involves your full focus and consideration. What is the person telling you? What’s their body language tell you? Think back to a time you truly felt like someone was listening to you, and how you felt. Emulate that.
Listen well so you can absorb what they’re saying, and refer back to something they said later on. This not only shows you’re listening, but that you care about the person and what they’ve shared with you.
Make sure to put away all distractions (phone, games, etc.) and face the person you’re speaking with. Look at them as they talk to you. Nod your head in understanding when appropriate, and gently inquire about something they brought up.
- Ask open-ended questions.
Make sure the conversation isn’t full of questions the other person can answer with a simple yes or no. Instead, open up a space for understanding by asking open-ended questions like:
How have you been feeling lately?
What have you been doing to cope?
What do you want to do about that?
You can also express your concern and encourage the person to talk about what’s going on by offering caring statements like:
You seem to be a bit quiet these days. What’s been on your mind?
I’ve found that open-ended questions like these have helped me understand the issues my friends have faced, and allowed them to get comfortable enough to tell me what’s going on.
- Don’t assume or make judgments.
Opening up and reaching out for help can be difficult. If you make assumptions and judgments in response, it can make it even harder for your friend to express themselves.
Refrain from assuming how your friend feels, what they need, or what’s going on with them. Instead, ask gently for clarification when you need some.
If your loved one tells you things that make you uneasy, or that you might not agree with, such as how they’ve been coping with their feelings, or negative perceptions they have of themselves, do your best to set aside all judgment.
Expressing warm-hearted concern and offering support should always be the aim of a #RealConvo.
- Find a way to help or get help.
Sometimes, you might be able to directly help the person you’re concerned about. Maybe all they needed was to vent, or have someone to talk to and help sort out their feelings. For some people, it might be helpful to send them positive text messages throughout the week, whenever you get the chance.
But there are some cases in which the ways you can help are limited. If your friend is suicidal, for example, or battling with substance abuse, then it’s time to get help from those more equipped to handle the situation at hand.
Ask your loved one if they want to get help, and offer them the resources to do so. Assure them there’s nothing wrong with getting the help they need and that by doing so, they’ve taken the first step to feeling better. Sometimes, just hearing this will help lift some weight off of how they’re feeling.
Offering to take your loved one to these helpful spaces, or to find the proper assistance, can go a long way:
“Hey, how about we go to the Student Counseling Center together? I can wait outside the room if that makes you more comfortable.
Afterwards, as time goes on, be a friend by applauding their small wins, whether it’s that they went to therapy that day, got out of bed and showered, or took their medicine.
Everyone deserves to have a canvas they can freely paint their thoughts onto, without judgment or neglect. Everyone deserves to be listened to, and to have a person they feel comfortable talking to about what’s really going on.
Hopefully these tips can empower you to have a #RealConvo, and be a helpful canvas to the people in your life.