If someone is speaking to you about their mental health, there are some key actions you can make to show that you are listening attentively.
Listen more than you speak
This gives the person the opportunity to share their feelings and experiences without interruption. You don’t need to jump in with advice and your personal viewpoint. More often than not, just talking about their experiences and feelings is what the person needs at that time. If you speak, they are likely to focus on you instead or feel unable to return the conversation back to themselves.
Open questions will encourage the person to develop their answers to give you more information to assess the support they need. Closed questions can clarify points so that you are showing you are listening and also to make sure you are clear about their experience.
Look at their body language
Only a small percentage of our communication is verbal; the rest is shown through our actions, tone of voice and body language. As you listen to the person who is speaking, think about what they aren’t saying.
Often, someone who is feeling low will naturally diminish their worries or issues because of fear of how someone will react or what they will think of them. Very closed body language, the way they look or their tone of voice can give clues to their real feelings.
Use verbal prompts
Phrases such as ‘I see’, ‘go on’ or ‘Mmm’ will show that you are following the conversation and encourage them to continue sharing. Phrases like this are unlikely to interrupt their thoughts or what they want to say and will show that you are actively listening and engaged.
Remember that sometimes silence is important too
The person may need time to think about their words or what they want to say, so silence will give them time to do this. It could be that they are unsure what to share, how to say it or what the issue is. Giving them the space to consider this can be just as supportive as talking to them.