A Global Burden of Disease 2017 study estimated that 792 million people suffered from a mental health disorder. Since then, the figure might have increased sharply owing to a number of factors.
The above statistic paints a saddening reality of the rate of the world's population suffering from a mental health problem.
It's hurting witnessing a loved one or friend struggling with a mental issue. And, it's frustrating not knowing how to assist them.
The first step in assisting them is finding out which mental health problem they're suffering from. If the person you're intending to help hasn't opened up to you - they're struggling with a mental health problem - you can watch for symptoms indicating they're suffering from a mental health issue.
The next step is to find out which risk factors might have contributed, for instance, life experiences is the major contributing factor that affects the mental state of a large percentage of the world's population.
Assisting them doesn't mean you're replacing the professional services offered by mental health professionals. Some of them might not afford such services, or they may refuse to seek the services of a mental health expert.
Learning what mental health problem they're suffering from, and what caused them, requires a watchful eye, and an open ear.
When you have determined the above two, the last step is to offer your response - encouraging them.
What they need is hope. Hope things will get better. Hope they will get past, or out, of an unpleasant or hurting situation. Hope they will attain what they'd aimed or planned for.
Hope, an Important Element in Life
Wikipedia defines hope as "an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large " Your Dictionary defines it as "the longing or desire for something accompanied by the belief in the possibility of its occurrence," or "a feeling of optimism or a desire that something will happen."
Hope constitutes desire and expectation - one's longing for something to come to fruition, for an unpleasant situation to come to an end, or to get past (or out, or over) something.
But, hope is more than desiring for the occurrence of something (e.g. to get a job), or the end of something (e.g. being jobless). Hope is patiently waiting for the occurrence of something or persevering through a difficult time. Hope produces in us perseverance - not to give up on something, or giving in to something.
How can you go about instilling someone with hope not to give in to a situation, or give up on something they're desiring to achieve or get? It's by lending your ears (listening), understanding, and encouraging them.
You might not know what to say to a person suffering from a mental illness. You might not of the right words to say to a person going through a tough time, and they don't know if they'll ever come out of it. However, taking the time to listen to them (when they open their heart to you, or you take the initiative to ask them so they can open up to you), and understand their situation from their perspective, will arm you with knowledge on how to respond to them.
Katherine Ponte, writing for National Alliance of Mental Illness, in an article titled, 'A Letter to Those Struggling with Mental Illness,' she states, "Saying the right thing to someone struggling with mental illness can be incredibly powerful. It can support, comfort, encourage and sometimes even save a life. The problem is finding the words. Too many people don’t know what to say to us, so they say nothing at all. Some people may worry about upsetting us. They don’t know how to act in this often unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. Some may simply not want to get involved.
"...Not acting can have significant consequences. Silence can make us feel hopeless, sad and alone. At its worst, we may think that others do not care or love us. This is especially true when our struggles are greatest — when we’re hospitalized....
"...A lack of acknowledgment or reassurance from others leaves us to dwell on “why?” We may believe it’s because we are to blame for our own condition. Silence breeds uncertainty."
She included in the article a letter - addressed to those suffering from mental illness - which you can use as an added means of helping someone struggling with mental illness.
Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have. ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
The objective of listening is to understand what's been said rather than to arm you with knowledge so as to form a response. More so, you can't respond appropriately if you haven't understood what has been said.
Poor listening elicits poor response because your heart wasn't fully immersed in the conversation, or what the speaker was saying.
Listening involves hearing, and processing (interpreting) what's been said so as to understand how the speaker is feeling, why they're feeling that way, and what had led them to feel that way.
When you actively listen to them, it shows you love, and care about them, and are willing to help them. Even if you don't know how to respond (what to say), listening in itself offers them hope because they become aware someone cares enough about them.
However, there are factors that affect our listening ability. One of them is lack of patience. Some can't sit still, and listen attentively, without feeling bored, or tired. Another group feels it's a waste time. They feel such conversations should be short. A response should be provided immediately.
Mental health experts spend quality time with their clients because they understand the power of actively listening to their client.
The Gospel Coalition states, "... patient listening seems to be one of the most important ways to help and heal someone. A listening ear can bear their burdens. But it requires patience. It requires turning off the noise of hypercommunication. It requires giving of yourself to others. As Han notes, "Listening is a bestowal, a giving, a gift."
"Listening is a form of patience. Or perhaps we can say listening looks like patience in practice. We have this great gift to give. But it might require an emptying of ourselves and a love for others that eliminates all thoughts of self. When we listen, we are not producing, we are not sharing our thoughts; we listen to others.
" It is a form of sacrifice because we put aside our worries, cares, and interests for the moment. And we focus on someone else's. We bear their burdens. We carry their hardships."
Another aspect that makes listening ineffective is interrupting an individual, and offering a quick response, without waiting for the individual to finish what they're saying. A person assumes they know the whole story thereby no need of listening further to the story. They already have a response to the story.
And, being judgmental. "Exercising empathy while listening to a speaker is related to suspending judgment in that it requires the listener to work to understand what the speaker says from his or her point of view. This does not mean that the listener must automatically agree with the speaker; rather, the listener should simply put him- or herself in the speaker's shoes and try to see the presented arguments from that perspective. One of the primary jobs of an effective listener is to get in touch with the speaker's perspective and not to colour it with his or her own," states Lumen Learning.
Listening is more than lending one's ears. It also involves picking nonverbal cues, that is, taking notice of nonverbal communication e.g. the facial expression of the speaker, gestures, tone of their voice, body movement and posture, and their eyes. But, we should be careful not to concentrate much of our attention on the nonverbal communication than what's been said. This is noted by Bob Weinstein in article appearinh on Reliable Plant, 'Why listening is so difficult and what to do about it.' "Gilde Carle, a New York City-based psychotherapist, says that we have trouble listening because we focus on body movement 55 per cent of the time, and on vocal intonation 38 per cent of the time. That leaves only seven per cent to devote to what someone is saying. "We're terrible listeners because we are distracted by 93 per cent of these nonverbal cues as opposed to the seven per cent of what we should be hearing," says Carle."
As stated above, listening is not meant to enable a person to form an appropriate response, but an attempt to understand what a speaker is saying, or trying to convey.
Without understanding what has been said, it is difficult to form an appropriate response. An individual has to process the information received, that is, interpret what's been said, so as to make sense of it (understand what has been said).
Understanding requires an individual putting themselves in the speaker's shoes. How does it feel to experience whatever the speaker is undergoing? Understanding calls for empathizing. Pascal Molenberghs of Monash University in an article appearing on The Conversation stated, "Empathy is the ability to share and understand the emotions of others....Why do we need it? Empathy is important because it hells us understand how others are feeling so we can respond appropriately to the situation. It is typically associated with social behaviour and there is lots of research showing that greater empathy leads to more helping behaviour."
Just because an individual has undergone the same experience as the speaker doesn't mean the level of experience is the same. If you had conquered the obstacle or challenges you're facing doesn't mean you expect the same of the speaker. We are different, and we face situations differently.
Listening calls for understanding. For instance, many people anticipating to end their own lives offer clues in their talk indicating their need for assistance. When you tell them to grow up and face whatever they are going through in a manly manner, you aren't helping. Instead, you're amplifying their suicide feelings.
Empathy, as noted by Exploring Your Mind, plays an essential role in understanding other people. Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past ot present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an o jecticry explicit manner."
"Getting to grips with another person's experience in order to get to know their point of view, and how it makes them feel, opens the door to understanding," states Exploring Your Mind.
"Understanding other people means you need to experience their emotions and compare them to your own. It means remembering similar experiences that you've had to go through and recognizing the differences between your point of view and the other person's."
Even if you're defeated how you can instil hope to your loved one or friend undergoing a trying time, just listening and trying to understand is all that is needed. In themselves, they instil hope to a speaker that someone cares to listen and understand how they're feeling.
Dr. Marjorie Schuman states, "Feeling understood is a primary foundation of psychological safety and part of what makes it possible for us to learn to modulate our emotional states...
"In more personal terms, we might also say that when we feel emotionally distressed, what we seem to need/want most is to express our feelings and have them deeply received by an Other. When this can happen, it often feels as though the bubble of emotional tension or worry bursts and evaporates.
"In the presence of a trusted other, the experience of being understood seems to provide a balm of emotional safety which allows relaxation and letting go; release from the clutches of painful feelings. Sometimes when the need for understanding feels urgentx lack of adequate attunement on the part of a needed Other can trigger old developmental wounds."
We all need encouragement now and then. It's easy to give up on achievement of something or give in to an unpleasant or hurtful situation. It's easy to lose hope of ever getting out of a situation, or attaining something we desire for.
A lack of active listening, and understanding, can lead an individual offering empty encouragement which lacks empathy. It's an indicator the encourager lacks enthusiasm. They're not interested, engaged, or lack a depth of feeling for the speaker.
Other than using the familiar encouraging words such as, "Don't give up," "Things will turn out good," and so on, you also need to advise them, that is, to offer guidance, suggestion, or recommendation, on what the speaker should do.
Encouraging the speaker will ignite in them the determination to persevere whatever they're going through (not give in), or to aim for whatever they are desiring to achieve (not give up). It'll strengthen or awaken confidence in them, including trust in themselves they can get over a situation, or are capable of accomplishing their goals and dreams.
You can use examples of real individuals who overcame obstacles to achieve their goals, individuals who got past a hurting situation, individuals who overcame whatever emotional or mental issue they're facing.
You can search online for articles or videos that touch upon what the speaker is experiencing, or encouraging and inspiring videos, including songs, and have them read the articles or listen to the videos or songs.
Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement - and we will make the goal. ~ Jerome Fleishman
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Alianess Benny Njuguna
Alianess Benny Njuguna (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on December 06, 2012:
Thank you freedomspirit. God Bless you too and for the work you are doing. We do need encouragement as life at times is not always joyful and happy. Its good reading such articles as they inspire and renew ones hope in this life. Thanx.
freedomspirit on November 26, 2012:
Very wise words ben, you are a good man and thank you very much for your insightful comments on my hub about spirituality.
It is very important to be a good person and listening is one of the kindest things one can do, you are right.
It's wrong to walk away if you can be of help----
empathy is such a beautiful thing too