Moving Forward in Mental Health Advocacy
It’s exciting to see the growth in awareness and discussions around mental health and well-being. Now that people are talking and sharing their experience, it seems we’re ready to take the next steps towards greater understanding and compassion in regards to mental health discourse.
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen”.
– Ernest Hemingway
The next step is “let’s listen”. How often do we truly listen attentively and compassionately to those sharing their mental health struggles and successes?
I believe we can improve our capacity for listening, to strengthen and propel our progress in the collective dialogue around mental health. What is often overlooked in our human interactions is just how powerful it is when someone listens to you without a motive, without waiting for you to shut up, without trying to get you to listen to THEIR STORY that was so much crazier that yours.
When it comes to therapy and other caregiving relationships, one of, if not the most important part is the sincerity in which the listener is communicating their care and compassion. This powerful tool isn’t said with words, it’s communicated through body language, and a quiet and sincere presence in which the person talking can feel deep within their soul. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to support someone in the deepest way. What you can do, is avoid trying to fix them or to solve their problems. That’s not your job. Your job is to listen.
12 Barriers to Listening
Here are the most common barriers to listening. I know I can relate to many of them. Which ones are typical for you?
- Comparing – You can’t let much in because you’re too busy seeing if you measure up.
- Mind Reading – You’re trying to figure out what the other person is thinking and feeling, instead of listening.
- Rehearsing – You don’t have time to listen or pay attention to listening when you’re rehearsing what to say.
- Filtering – When you filter, you listen to some things and not to others. You hear what you want to hear, and avoid what you don’t want to hear and let your mind wander.
- Judging – Negative labels have enormous power. If you prejudge someone as stupid, nuts, or unqualified, you don’t pay much attention to what they say.
- Being Right – Being right means you will go to any lengths (twist the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call up past sins) to avoid being wrong.
- Dreaming – You’re half listening, and something the person says suddenly triggers a chain or private associations in your mind.
- Identifying – you take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your experience. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs.
- Advising – You don’t have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice.
- Sparring – You argue and debate with people. The other person never feels heard because you’re so quick to disagree.
- Derailing – You constantly change the subject when you’re bored or uncomfortable with the discussion.
- Placating – You want to be nice, pleasant, and supportive. You want people to like you. So you agree with everything.
In the mental health world of let’s talk, I’d argue it’s more important to listen.
“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening”.
– Larry King
If we don’t have the skills for effective listening, we prevent many opportunities for people to be vulnerable, to share and open up. For this years #BellLetsTalk, can we focus on listening? Can we identify at least one of these “blocks to listening” that we currently have?
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say”
– Bryan H. McGill
Can we contemplate how a change in our collective listening skills will revolutionize our ability to communicate and deepen our mutual compassion and well-being?
This is from a blog I wrote originally posted on the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) blog. https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/lets-talk-but-lets-listen-too