One of the easiest phrases people use today is, “Hey! How are you?”. But when it comes to this question, they aren’t actually looking for a serious, honest answer. For them it’s a formality, a courtesy to get out of the way before either moving on with the conversation or walking away. For those of us with depression, ‘how are you?’, is a loaded question. Do we answer honestly? Or do we follow formality and courtesy and just say fine, all while hiding how we really feel?
Asking ‘how are you’ is the easiest question, but can actually mean so much to a person if you’re asking it honestly. Maybe you won’t like to hear the answer that they aren’t feeling well, or mentally they are struggling, but they’ll feel so much better being able to tell you the truth instead of hiding how they feel. But there are good and bad ways to ask someone if they are ok.
The first step is to ask the question, “Are you ok?” or “How are you?”. Be honest, and try to get the person to open up. Sometimes they need to talk, but don’t know what to say when confronted with the question, “how are you?”. Continue asking questions about them, and their life. You may have to work a little to earn their trust so that they will open up to you. This may be one of the hardest steps, especially if they don’t know how to respond, but it is also the most important one. It starts a conversation about the person’s mental well-being.
The second step is to listen without judgement. The first sign that the person feels like they are being judged, they will shut down and you have completely lost their trust. Don’t give advice, just listen. Just like you occasionally need to vent to someone about work, life, etc, so do they, especially because they have a disease that makes it difficult for them to be happy or see the good in their life. Also, don’t try to solve their problems. While that might be easier for you, it could be detrimental to their recovery. Depressed people have to face their problems if they’re going to get better. And let them know that you’re there for them whenever they need to talk.
The third step is to encourage action. Ask them what steps they’re taking to get better. Encourage them to see a doctor, psychiatrist, and/or therapist, if they are not already. Ask them if they need help with anything. Don’t let them become fully reliant on you for everything but help them when they’re stuck in a certain situation, environment or dilemma.
The final step is to follow up with them. Depressive people often have a hard time following through with actions that have been put in place. Try to make time for them, not so much that it interferes with your life, but enough so that they know you are thinking about them and hoping that they are taking the right steps to work through their depression.
These steps can be taken face to face, over the phone, over text or even over social media. When you are talking to them, make sure that they are the center of your attention for that moment. Take any threats of suicide seriously and get them to seek help immediately. Think carefully about what you post, or say about that person to others. It will often be seen as a breach of trust and at the very least make that person uncomfortable, especially if they haven’t gone public with their illness.
These steps are good for talking to anyone, not just a depressive or mentally ill person. So next time you say “Hey! How are you?” to someone, be genuinely interested in their answer. You never know how much of a difference that could make.
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