How to be a good listener

4 min read
23 September 2019

I’m Tara, a 16-year-old Activist for YoungMinds. I've struggled with depression and anxiety since I was 14, when it began following a bad case of glandular fever. I went from being a very bubbly person who was always energetic and up for anything, to someone who barely left the house and spent the majority of their free time crying. I didn’t notice the transition myself, because it was something that happened over an extended period of time. So, although I didn’t feel like myself, I wouldn’t have categorised myself as ‘depressed’, and didn’t think I needed to ‘open up’ about how I was feeling.

A few weeks after this began, my mum approached me and casually mentioned that it seemed like I wasn’t myself. I don’t think I’d realised until she said this how unwell I’d become, as I’d been putting my emotions down to being frustrated that I couldn’t exercise, instead of thinking it was possible my mental health had deteriorated alongside my physical health. This casual chat evolved into a big conversation where I opened up completely and talked about everything I was feeling. Together we worked out what to do to help get me feeling better - starting with a trip to the GP.

My mum was a great listener because she made me feel normal and gave me hope that I could feel better again. She’s struggled with depression in the past, and I think this helped me talk to her, as she could relate to what I was going through and was able to help me make sense of what I was feeling. Hearing her describe things she has felt herself made me feel less alone as I realised the amount of people that must be feeling the same way as me.

Talking about your mental health lifts a weight off your shoulders, as you realise that you're not alone.

I talked to my mum about my fear of being judged for taking medication for my mental health. She explained how this was no different to taking medication for a physical health condition, which made me feel a lot better. Mental ill-health is not something to be ashamed of; it can be helped by medication and talking therapy, like a broken leg can be fixed with a cast and physiotherapy.

Opening up about your mental health is a big step to recovery, as it helps you realise how many people you have supporting you. Also, talking about your mental health lifts a weight off your shoulders, as you realise that you’re not alone and many people will be there for you while you get better.

If someone opens up to you about their mental health, here are the things I think you can do to be a great listener, like my mum was.

Five tips for being a good listener

  • Give the person speaking your full attention

    keep phones away and focus on what they’re saying. Also make sure you remind them of the confidentiality you’ll keep after the conversation so they feel confident they can be completely open.

  • Empathise with them

    relating to them will help them feel less alone. Remind them that others go through the same things.

  • Be an active listener

    give them space to talk, but interact by asking questions and giving advice to show you’re interested and that you care.

  • Be encouraging

    try to point out positives in what they’re saying, without belittling it. For example, if someone opens up about depression, understand the seriousness of it; emphasise that they’ll get better, and be a stronger, more resilient person for it.

  • Follow up the conversation afterwards

    give them a text or call a few days after to show them you care and have understood everything they told you. Check how their situation is progressing, and remind them that you’ll always be there to support them.

Tara is one of our YoungMinds Activists. To find out more about our Activist programme, check out our page on becoming a YoungMinds Activist.

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