Comforting the Depressed - Listening

jny published on
4 min, 661 words

Categories: Mental Health

Obligatory disclaimer that I am not a professional nor do I mean to imply that what I'm saying is true in every case and that I'm only speaking from my own personal experience.

I started writing this as one single blog post but it grew much too large and I think separate posts for each point gives me a better chance to flesh out ideas.

Also I initially wanted to direct it at the "mentally ill" in its entirety, but because I have primarily struggled with depression and haven't run this by people with other mental illnesses, I don't want to overstep my bounds; it's fallacious for me to say I speak from my own experience if I extend beyond that. However, I do think that, on a basic level, these things are true for almost all relationships -be it family, friendship, romantic partner, etc. At the very least, perhaps people in vastly different situations may be able to gleam a small bit here and there; "take what you want and leave the rest", as they say.

With that out of the way, let's get on to the first one! This will be a series of numbered posts with the lower the number being the most important (by way of being the most fundamental) way of interacting, with subsequent posts building on top of it.

1. Listening

Just listening. Sincerely. Let them be heard.

It sounds so simple but it's so underutilized. Not to say that it doesn't come from the best of intentions but most people's immediate response is to try to offer solutions or consolations. And this is not always a bad thing (as I'll get into); but there's a reason I put this as #1: it's hella important.

Listening is an act of caring. It shows that you give a shit. And you do have to give a shit; I didn't say hearing, I said listening. That means giving them your full attention. Actually being interested and involved in what they're trying to say; not preparing what your response will be, just listening. Letting them know that you're listening, not just staring at their face or waiting to respond. Even your body language can do wonders; leaning in if you're seated, making sure your posture is not withdrawn, light physical touch (ask first, with trauma and all), or holding their hand, or even a hug. I can't tell you how much someone sincerely giving me physical contact while I'm bawling my eyes out tells me "Hey. I'm here. I'm hearing you. You're not alone." without even saying a word. And again, sincerity is key.

Part of listening can also be asking questions, but the goal shouldn't be to gain information for yourself; it should be to help them release their feelings. No implications of what should or should not be done, just questions to help elucidate what they're saying. (And, though it should go without saying, because this is listening, questions should not be the only, or even majority, of your response.)

To sum it up: give them space to talk. Be interested in invested in what they are saying. Show that they are being heard even in minor ways. But perhaps most importantly: be sincere. I can only speak for myself, but I can smell insincerity a mile away, and all that makes me want to do is withdraw, because I don't feel safe. And feeling safe is hella important; talking about personal issues is making yourself vulnerable, which I don't believe is a bad thing. It's a natural part of the human psyche and it's crucial to healthy close relationships. But it always goes without saying that being vulnerable means there is the possibility of some real hurt. So take that into consideration if someone talks with you about their deep problems: they're trusting you, at least a certain amount, and it's wise to keep that in mind: that it's not just a casual conversation.