Active Listening

Active listening → fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively hearing the message of the speaker. 

This is something that you should do when having a conversation with someone about their mental health as it helps the speaker feel more comfortable during what can be a difficult discussion.

Being an ‘active listener’ means you should be ‘seen’ to be listening. Just giving your full attention might not demonstrate that enough and the person speaking may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to you and decide to not open up. 

You can use both verbal and non-verbal messages to do this, it means the person you’re talking to will usually feel more at ease and therefore communicate more easily, openly and honestly. 

Things to think about:

  • Smile - it seems small but a smile really can go a long way!
  • Maintaining eye contact - people who maintain eye contact are seen as reliable, warm, sociable, honest, confident and active. Focusing your eyes also helps to improve concentration helping you fully understand what the speaker is saying. If you find eye contact difficult, a trick can be to focus on the space between a person’s eyes at the top of their nose.
  • Posture - not looking slouched or bored, looking engaged means they will be more likely to open up
  • No distractions - don’t look at your phone, or your watch, or walk away to deal with something else. When having this conversation stay focused on them
  • Don’t interrupt them! Let the speaker complete their thoughts before you try to respond. Do not interrupt, finish sentences, or rush him or her. Avoid guessing or assuming where their thoughts are going - this can create a negative impact on effective communication.
  • Be patient, pauses and short periods of silence should be accepted
  • Remembering details
  • Summarising or repeating what they’ve said - repeat what has been said back to the speaker in your own words. This helps make sure you have understood what they are saying. Summarise by repeating the main points of the message. 
  • Open-Ended Questions like:
  • “I’ve noticed you’ve stopped attending our weekly socials and we really miss you. How are you doing?”
  • “Have you told anyone how you’re feeling? How did that make you feel?”
  • “You mentioned you’re not feeling able to attend training. Tell me more about that.”

Having a conversation

Outlined below is the typical timeline of a conversation with someone about mental health. 

We appreciate that, if you’ve made the decision to talk to someone about mental health, you may be nervous about how things will go and what could happen, so hopefully this will help you through the process.

1 - Starting a conversation

  • Ask someone how they are doing, and take time to listen and engage with their response.
  • Do something relaxing
  • Talking when cooking or walking can take the pressure off
  • Choose somewhere quiet
  • Make sure you have enough time
  • Avoid difficult times, for example meal times if starting a conversation with someone who has an eating disorder
  • Respect privacy and boundaries of the person you are talking to
  • You don’t have to set aside hours to chat, 10 minutes may be enough, but make sure you aren’t distracted.

Top Tip: ask twice! Research shows that ‘How are you?’ can often prompt no more than a meaningless exchange. If someone says they’re fine, try asking ‘How are you really?’ or ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’.

2 - Having a conversation

  • Ask open questions
  • This helps someone open up and shows that you care
  • Resist the urge to offer quick fixes which can often lead to people feeling dismissed.
  • Depersonalise the situation
  • It can be easier to talk about a hypothetical event rather than asking direct questions about feelings or speaking about your own.
  • If you have your own personal experience of mental health problems, and feel comfortable sharing, you can talk about this personal experience but make sure to not overpower the conversation and let the other person open up.

3 - Signposting - at the end of the day, you are not here to diagnose but to signpost to services that can better support the students you are talking to. Some places you could consider signposting to:

  • Wellbeing
  •  Security
  • Counselling
  • SU advice centre
  • mental health first aiders
  • GP
  • IAPT
  • Specific charities that you can find linked in the resources below

4 - Follow up and recovery

It is a nice idea to show your continued support for your peers with follow up conversations. When doing this, make sure to do something fun! throughout their recovery:

  • keep inviting them to social events
  • check in to ask if they’re okay
  • do small things to show you care

Recognise recovery can take a long time and remember that everyone’s recovery is different. Celebrate all the positives, something as small as feeling able to shower again, getting out of the house, or moving away from destructive methods. 

Just because someone is not 100%, or even 50% better, doesn’t mean that they aren’t recovering. 

Active Bystander

bystander: a person who observes a conflict or unacceptable behavior. This can be serious or minor, one-time or repeated, but the bystander knows that the behavior is destructive or inappropriate.

Everybody will be a bystander at some point as you go through life.

An active bystander takes steps to make a difference.

> Why does a bystander’s response matter?

When we intervene, we demonstrate that the behaviour is unacceptable. If this is reinforced repeatedly within our community, we can shift the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and problem behaviour will hopefully begin to stop.

> The ABC approach

A : assess for safety

If you see someone in trouble, ask yourself if you can help safely in any way. Remember, your personal safety is a priority – never put yourself at risk.

B : be in a group

It’s safer to call out behaviour or intervene in a group. If this is not an option, seriously consider whether you should step in and, if not, report it to others who can act.

C : care for the victim

Talk to the person who you think may need help. Ask them if they are OK.

> How to be an active bystander

Learning to recognise when someone is in danger and how you can intervene safely is an essential skill. 

Examples of safely intervening: 

  • disapproving look
  • interrupting 
  • distracting someone
  • not laughing at a sexist/violent joke
  • talking to a friend about their behaviour in a non-confrontational way 
  • caring for a friend who’s experienced problematic behaviour
  • asking friends, staff, or the police for help