“Hey! Are you listening to me or just hearing me out?”
Listening and hearing, one uses these terms interchangeable yet the meaning behind them are quite different. Hear, as per the Oxford dictionary is defined as “being aware of sounds with your ears” . Whereas, listening is the act of paying attention to what an individual has to say. One often forgets the thin line that exists between the two which often closes the path for people to openly share their feelings and thoughts especially when they are intense in nature i.e. thoughts of not just suicide but self harm as well.
These thoughts often overwhelm the one experiencing them and the other parties hearing acts as the barrier. The following list has ways by which one can be there for a friend, family member or even a stranger, who might look distressed.
By Listening; Respect their feelings
When an individual has intense thoughts like those of ending their life or even engaging in self-harm, the listener must work on giving the individual the time and space to collect their thoughts and express them. At a point when the distress seems burdensome, it is pivotal for the listener to show compassion instead of jumping on the bandwagon to help/ advice or even trivialize the despair the person might be experiencing.
The listener could simply resort to reassuring the despairing by saying “I care about you” or “I am here for you and shall be there irrespective of what you share with me”. These small initiatives and statements help the person in pain feel safer to share their thoughts and feelings.
Encourage the individual to seek help
If an individual appears to be in a lot of pain and in immediate danger, the listener could also encourage the individual to contact a professional or a helpline. Professionals and suicide prevention helplines are equipped to help those on the brink of ending their lives by giving them a warm and empathetic listening ear. The space they extend often gives the individual time to think and explore their distress in depth, which might be at times difficult for an untrained listener.
The listener’s role doesn’t only end with encouraging the despairing but also hand holding them through the process. When one is distressed to the point of having thoughts of dying by suicide, it is possible that they might not be in the state of mind to look for helpline and it would fall onto the shoulders of the listener to look for the best source of help for the individual in distress.
Don’t be afraid to ask THE question
According to researchers one of the biggest barriers the listener faces while extending support to the despairing is their being unable to ask the suicide question. More often than not people find themselves fearing the question because they don’t wish to influence or put the thought of ending life in one’s mind, who are in distress.
The awkwardness around the nature of the question must be mindfully broken by the listener because it helps break the barrier. If the individual knows that they have someone in their circle who is open and comfortable to hear their thoughts of ending their lives, it helps them feel reassured that they have someone to turn to in times of urgent help.
The three above mentioned pointer can seem to be a lot but taking one step at a time can help and encourage the discussion about suicide by active listening. It could help people in pain open up and seek emotional support as well as professional help. Suicide is preventable if the one in despair gets an outlet to just safely share their thoughts and feelings.
MHT India aims to provide support to the community and all our readers. Click here to know more about how MHT India can help with Suicide Prevention.
Feel like talking to a professional? MHT Directory has you covered. Click on this link to see the profiles of different mental health professionals who can help you in different ways.