Listening to someone struggling with mental health can make a huge difference.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, roughly 47.6 million adults in the United States struggled with a mental illness in 2018, so it comes as no surprise that the nation is experiencing a mental health epidemic. As laws and policies are passed to alleviate the threat, there is one thing everyone can do to support those struggling with their mental health: listening.

Listening to people makes them feel validated. Humans crave to be heard and understood. That sense of inclusion and belonging builds their emotional security and allows them to accept themselves. Validation is extremely important in emotionally unstable situations, and the lack of listening can make people feel even more frustrated and ignored. This notion of rejection can detrimentally hurt a person’s mental health.

Listening might seem like a simple task, but it’s heavily overlooked. Julius Boatwright, a licensed social worker and CEO of Steel Smiling, shared a TED Talk on how listening can save a life. In his TED Talk, Boatwright addresses that mental health issues often go unaddressed because no one chooses to actually listen to the struggling teenagers, the kids from broken families or the young women facing the burden of motherhood. Boatwright’s argues that listening to those around us makes them feel loved, valued and appreciated. The simple act of listening can save the life of someone who believes that no one will care if they disappeared.

Listening is incredibly influential on a person’s thoughts and character. A study done by Harvard Business Review found that “speakers paired with good listeners felt less anxious [and] more self-aware.” Good listeners can help people become more self-assured and confident in their ideals and goals, whereas distracted listeners make speakers feel ignored, unworthy or invalid. Speakers who feel heard see their struggles as challenges they can overcome and surpass. They are more inclined to work on their weaknesses and see their strengths positively.

Listening to those struggling with mental health can be a bit tricky. If the listener has not experienced the same or a similar struggle, it can be hard for the speaker to feel understood. In this situation, it’s not about sympathizing with the speaker, but rather empathizing. Trying to put yourself in the speaker’s shoes and feel what they feel makes the speaker feel like their problems matter. Empathetic listening can help those struggling with mental health feel like it’s good to go to someone for help, and it makes them recognize they don’t have to isolate themselves because no one understands.

We all want to feel heard. In times of crisis, humans crave to be able to turn to a group of people and feel loved and supported. It’s what encourages us to get back on our feet and persevere. When our loved ones feel alone and dejected, it’s up to us to be there for them and remind them that they mean something to us and the world.

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