Leadership Soapbox – World Mental Health Day

How to support someone’s mental health by listening to them


Hi, my name is Neil Poynter and welcome to this special World Mental Health Day edition of the Leadership Soapbox.

This is a very important day and it’s important because it raises awareness about something that is going to be and is a huge issue for us at this current moment in time with what is going on in the world with COVID, with people in lockdown, with people having to live in very different circumstances.

This is a really important angle that we need to be thinking about as people, as managers, as leaders and just friends. Now the UK Mental Health Charity Mind UK is running a campaign this year called Do One Thing. Now I want to talk about one thing that we can all do. And I want to talk about this from my own personal experience and I’m going to be very open here.

From 2010 through to 2013, I went through my own mental health crisis, I had a mental breakdown for want of a better term and it’s one I’m happy with, it’s a term I’m personally happy with.

One of the things that is most important is the isolation and how you feel when you are going through something like this. And one of the most powerful things that people can do is just listen.

Now I want to give you a couple of tips about how you can start to and go through and finish listening to someone.

Now the first thing is to genuinely ask, authentically ask, how are you? And when they give the body swerve, But, oh, yeah, life’s good at the moment, things are going well, the boys are okay dah, dah, dah, whatever, you go, Ah, sorry, no, how are you?

Now, this is especially important with carers and people who are handling lots of things and they’re struggling to stay out of the mire. How are you? Now, they may brush over it. Now if they do, don’t try and hold them but it will have registered that you are interested in them and that will be so important.

If they do give some indication that they might be open to talking, then say, do you want to chat? Do you want to talk? What’s going on? What’s happening?

Now, if you do that, please make sure you’ve got the time. If you haven’t then say, look, would you like to chat sometime? I can’t stop now, but I’m really open to chatting, let’s make a time. But if you’re going to make that time then please make sure you’ve got time to listen to them.

Third, so actually listening. When you listen to someone, you don’t have to do anything except listen. You don’t have to say anything apart from acknowledge, just go, aha, yeah, yeah I get that, yeah I understand. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to solve anything, you don’t have to say anything, it’s not a conversation. Let them talk, if they want to get angry about something, let them get angry. Obviously, you’ve got to be safe but I mean angry about something not in the room. If they want to cry, let them cry. If they’re a good friend and you would hug them and they’re crying, then say, would you like a hug?

But you don’t have to solve anything or do anything for them, okay. Just listen to them, give them the space to let this out. You have no idea how helpful that can be and how validating for them that someone is prepared to just listen to them.

When it sort of comes to an end, ask if you can help in any way, I would say, don’t do, is say, “Right, I’m going to do this thing” because you are taking the ownership of the situation away from them. Ask if, can I do anything to help? If they say yes, great. If they say no, I’m okay, I’m coping, all right but just let me know if there is anything I can do.

My final point is if they don’t respond and if someone’s gone quiet on the phone and they’re not replying to messages or anything like that, please don’t give up. The very fact that you stay in contact you keep on contacting them, will register with them at a level that they are important. So please don’t give up on them. If they don’t respond to you with messages, leave a message on the phone saying, just to, I wanted to get in touch with you, let you know we’re all okay, wanted to know how you’re doing, please pick up the phone to me. But if they don’t, don’t get bored with them, just keep on going.

Okay, a brief message to perhaps someone who might be struggling at the moment, please reach out for help. Please talk to someone, please ask for the help you need. It’s okay to be not okay. You might feel difficult, embarrassed, even some shame about it. It’s not real. And nobody else will think that of you. Pick someone who you trust and contact them, please do that.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen, that’s it for me today. I’m going put some links up now about various charities, Samaritans et cetera. Please think about people around you, please reach out. Please make contact, please just go and listen.

Thanks very much. I’ll see you next time on the Leadership Soapbox.