By now, we all have probably accepted the fact that things will not be the same again, at least not for the immediate future.  As they said, we will have to get used to the “new normal”.

That is why times are stressful.  For now, we are not yet used to this.  It feels like danger is just lurking, waiting for its next victim.  

This situation has affected many people, both physically and mentally.  One has to be resilient to survive all this.  

Mental illness is common.  35% of people have experienced mental illness in their life.  This means 1 out of 3 people you know have a mental illness. 

If you have a loved one who is experiencing this, you must become a positive source of support for them. What we all have to remember is that mental illness is not permanent: it is treatable and curable.

But because of the stigma and shame that we associate mental illness with, most people are reluctant to talk about it.  There are even fewer people who can recognize signs of mental illness and do not know how they can help.  

Telling people that “You will be okay”,  “Pull yourself together”, or “Be positive” would not work and would even make things worse.  Why?  Because they have already tried that.  

I am here to discuss how you can help a loved one with a mental illness.  One thing you can do is to practice “Empathic Listening”.  Once you have mastered this, it would be easy, and effective, and freely available to use.

The ability to listen is an important building block in every relationship.  If you are not a natural listener, don’t worry.  Like any other skill, you can improve on it.  

Empathic listening helps people be more open and responsive and less defensive.  

It improves collaborative problem solving.

Builds trust.

How to develop listening skills?

The first thing to do is simply to pay attention.  Forget about what you will prepare for dinner, or how is your wife doing, or has your pet eaten already.  None of that should matter at that moment.  Focus your thoughts on what they’re talking about.

Second, just stop talking.  Let the other person do the talking.  You do not have to say a lot of things.

Third, provide a safe environment for them through your body language and posture.  There is what we call “mirroring”, wherein you copy the posture or demeanor of the person you are talking to.  Look at them straight in the eye and do not cross your arms.  Approve what they say by nodding your head.

Fourth, verbally invite them to tell you more.  Encourage them to speak up. 

Fifth, listen for the deeper meaning.  For example, your spouse comes home and says “Oh, I had a very hard time at work and I am not good enough.”  It is easy to say “You can do it, forget about that now.”   By saying this, you are completely ignoring what your spouse is really saying.  Maybe your spouse is down, so stop and acknowledge that he or she is discouraged.  Make them feel that you agree with them.  Tell them “Okay, I know this is hard, and you are down right now.” 

Remember that being an excellent listener is not giving advice.  

It is not problem solving.

It is not telling them “It will be okay.”

Don’t ask a lot of questions so they would not feel interrogated and defensive.  

Don’t change them or sway them to think differently.

There will always be a time for empathizing, for giving advice, for teaching.  But this is not the time.  

Start with listening, understanding, and acknowledging. 

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