The conversations about Mental Health Awareness on Social Media have spiked in the last 24 hours since the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide became public information. And while the conversations are extremely relevant and necessary, I noticed that most posts have the same message.
“Feel free to reach out to me. I’m here to talk”
I’ll admit that the gesture is thoughtful and beautiful. However, it puts the onus of reaching out and getting help almost entirely on the person suffering from… whatever they’re going through.
But here’s another point of view that we all should probably look at: The point of view of the person feeling all of these feelings that don’t let them function, and that don’t seem to go away.
When someone takes their own life, you wonder why they would’ve done it. What could have been so horrible and unbearable that living wasn’t an option any more? Did they try talking to someone? Get help? Find a solution? In some cases, we will never know.
What we do know is that they saw no other way out.
For the sake of this conversation, let us assume they tried talking to someone. How would that conversation go?
Would the opening line be:
“Hey, I think I’m going to end my life?”
“I’m feeling depressed, help me out, please”?
I don’t think so.
In all likelihood, someone’s first attempt to reach out to you will sound just like just another call or message to you.
“Hey, are you free? Just wanted to talk.”
Or maybe just a, “Wassup?”
Do we respond and engage in a conversation immediately, or do we blow it off for later? It could be yet another chatty call for all you know, and you may be busy. And sure, the world didn’t fall apart that very instant so you may not find anything out of place right away.
And that’s where a little bit of the problem lies – in how we deal with people who haven’t been specifically diagnosed as being depressed or aren’t going through some kind of obvious upheaval in their life.
Sadness, depression, anxiety, can manifest in many forms. On the outside, the person can appear perfectly okay, or very angry, or even very happy and jovial all the time. But there’s no way for us to know for sure what someone’s really feeling inside.
Now I know WE are not responsible for anyone’s decision to end their life. But we can definitely help prevent the untimely death of someone we care about.
Even if we are not mental health professionals. ESPECIALLY if we’re not mental health professionals. Because, the first person someone calls in case of an emotional crisis is most likely a close friend or a family member.
And that could be you.
They’ve taken the first step, but that’s all it is. THE FIRST STEP.
The next, and most important step includes YOU. And how you respond to someone reaching out to you could make a lot of difference. In fact, you can make a difference even without someone taking the first step because sometimes people don’t reach out. They don’t let anyone in. They don’t share much even with the people close to them.
There may be a lot of reasons why someone may have wanted to reach out but they haven’t. It could be that:
- They don’t know how to bring it up or talk about it.
- They don’t know how to talk to you about it.
- They are worried about or afraid of how you will react.
- They are worried about or afraid of what you’ll think of them.
- They’re embarrassed to admit it and/or appear vulnerable.
That’s why it is our duty, to some extent, to make it easier for people close to us to feel comfortable enough to reach out.
To help with that, I’ve put together a list. There are a few things we can do that will:
- Help us take care of our close friends and family
- Make sure WE are not over-extending ourselves
- Make the person reaching out to us NOT feel unwanted, rejected, ignored, unworthy, and/or unlike-able.
AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, the tips in this list will make us approachable enough that it might draw someone out of their shell and open up to us when they need to.
10 ways you can unknowingly
SAVE SOMEONE’S LIFE
As we grow older and our responsibilities increase, time becomes a very scarce and precious commodity and it is a given that it is not possible to talk to everyone important to us every day. But a lot of little things can happen in the gap between two calls, so it is important to stay in touch. While it is not practical or possible to worry about everyone, in addition to those who live with us, I would recommend we all pick a few close friends and family members we can do this for. If everyone picks 2-3 people that they choose to care about, everyone will have 2-3 more people in the world who care about them, and that’s just more love going around this planet we could all benefit from.
I’m not a mental health professional and all of these tips are essentially how I would want my close friends and family to behave with me when I feel low. While I haven’t been diagnosed as depressed, I have had pretty low phases where getting out of bed has taken way more motivation than it does on regular days and I’ve spent most of my time in bed, wallowing in everything that’s going wrong. So no, this is not advice from a professional but kind of a guide for my friends and family when I am down and low. I assume many others would feel the same.
1. MAKE YOURSELF APPROACHABLE
Let your close friends and family know that they can come talk to you NO MATTER WHAT. If that means actually saying it in those exact words, do it. Your closest people should know that your support is UNCONDITIONAL, that if they come to you with ANYTHING, you will listen and be there for them WITHOUT ANY JUDGEMENT. We are in the unique position of knowing them a little bit more than the rest of the world and caring about the outcome. In such a scenario, imagine how rejection would feel?
Many of us have done that on social media over the last day or so and that’s a wonderful first step. But we can do beyond just waiting until someone reaches out.
2. INITIATE CONVERSATIONS
Not everyone likes to talk about their day. Don’t assume someone is okay just because they seem okay. Ask them how they are really doing or feeling. And mean it.
For instance, instead of a generic question like ‘How are things?’ ask specific questions like ‘Is work hectic? Are you happy? Do you get time for yourself?’
Don’t always accept ‘fine’ or ‘okay’ as a reasonable answer. Once in a while, probe politely and urge them to open up. And when they do, be mentally prepared to listen to a long heartfelt response.
If they don’t feel like opening up, talk about your day and your feelings. This could serve a dual purpose.
a. It makes them comfortable telling you things if they hear you tell them things that may not be easy for you.
b. You get someone to listen to you as well.
3. SCHEDULE CHECK-INS
We’re all busy and sometimes we might just not be able to find the right moment to initiate a conversation. So schedule it. Make it a point to call these 2-3 chosen people once a week or once a fortnight – whatever works for both of you. Frequent check-ins over whatsapp or DMs are okay, but nothing replaces an actual phone call or a face-to-face conversation.
For people in the same house, make dinner/meal-time conversations a family thing. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner, child(ren), parent(s), in-law(s) once every few days. Put in on a calendar if that’s what helps you. This keeps communication channels open and establishes a level of comfort with the other person.
And every once in a while when you have the time and the emotional bandwidth, randomly call someone outside of your close circle, someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time, someone who isn’t expecting you to call, and check in on them. Especially if you know they’ve had a major life event – like giving birth, loss of someone close, moving cities or countries, etc.
I used to do this way back when I had a lot more free time and the happiness that people felt when you told them that you just felt like talking to them or wanted to hear their voice or that you just called to say hello because you were thinking about them makes them feel genuinely cared for.
4. MAKE YOURSELF AVAILABLE.
That means following through on “I’m here to talk, reach out to me if you want to talk,” and taking the time out to actually talk to someone in trouble. It may not always be convenient, but I’ll let you be the judge of when a conversation CAN WAIT until a more reasonable time and when it’s essential that the other person be heard right at that moment. The best way to do this is to answer the call first and check what the other person needs instead of declining the call. Of course, only if possible.
It’s great if you can do this for people outside your close circle but know that you don’t have to do this for everyone, just your immediate-family and the special 2-3 people who rely on you for emotional support in times of crises.
5. NOTICE CHANGES IN MOODS & BEHAVIOUR
For people that you know and care about, don’t dismiss any deviation from normal behaviour as nothing. When you notice something is off, ask them if things are okay. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push unless you’re really worried. Do remind and assure them that you’re there for them whenever they feel like talking.
6. LOOP IN A FRIEND OR A FAMILY MEMBER
I get it. Taking care of someone in a crisis can be overwhelming for one person. So don’t feel like you have to do it alone. If it’s a friend going through a rough time, loop in another common friend or two and take turns to check in with them. For a family member, ask others in the family to chip in. This way, the people close to you are taken care of without it seeming like only your responsibility.
7. JUST LISTEN
Most of the times people just want to be heard. They want to be loved and cared for. As far as possible, unless specifically asked for, don’t offer solutions. Or advice. And definitely steer clear of the urge to play “The Devil’s Advocate.” Everyone needs to face facts and accept their mistakes, but rubbing things in their face when they’re down and low is not the right time. During such times, all they’re looking for is some support and understanding.
And NEVER ask anyone to “just snap out of it.” It’s not like it hasn’t occurred to them. If it were that easy they would have done it already.
8. EMPATHISE. AT THE VERY LEAST, SYMPATHISE.
“I can imagine,” “I understand the feeling,” “I’ve been there,” are supportive words. But you don’t have to lie. If you haven’t experienced what they’re going through, let them know.
“I cannot imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you,” will do wonders too.
9. DO NOT BELITTLE THEIR FEELINGS
What even your closest people choose to share with you may only be the tip of the iceberg. We may possibly never fully comprehend exactly what the other person is feeling even if we have been in the exact same position because everyone feels the same things differently. So when someone opens up to you, phrases like, “This is such a little thing,” “It’s not a big deal,” may do more harm than good. It may not be a big deal for YOU but you have no idea how HUGE of a deal it may be for them.
10. WORST CASE SCENARIO
If someone’s feelings get too much for you to handle, politely and lovingly suggest that you want to be there for them and offer all the help you can, but helping them through their situation at this stage is beyond your capabilities and that they would greatly benefit from talking to a professional with more experience. Enlist the help of supportive common friends and family members and stage an intervention if you feel like you cannot do this on your own.
At any point do NOT make them feel like they are ‘less than’ or ‘damaged’ or that you don’t want to take care of them. Instead, take the stigma away by letting them know that getting help for one’s mental health is a sign of strength because it means they want to get better. And be there for them through their journey.
If you feel like they’re about to harm themselves or someone else, do not wait for them to ask for help. Give them all the support you can give without harming yourself or putting yourself at risk and get a professional involved as soon as you can.
11. BONUS – WHO IS TAKING CARE OF YOU?
Make sure YOU have a few people in your life who would do all of the above (and maybe more) for you. Because caring for other people is one of those paradoxes that can be rewarding and tiring at the same time. And you don’t want to be depleted of all your energy in taking care of others while having no one to care for you. You deserve just as much love and support as the ones you love and support.
If you’re looking for someone to talk to but don’t know whom to call, consider calling Mpower’s free helpline on 1800-120-820-050
Do you have any suggestions on what we could do to take care of our loved ones before it is too late? Share in the comments below
If you found this post helpful, please share this with anyone who will want to know how they can help save someone’s life.