Its not what you say, its how you listen

Active Listening

Talking about suicide can feel scary. It can be difficult to know what the ‘right’ thing to say is. But, often it’s not what you say that makes a difference, it’s how you listen.

Active Listening doesn’t only mean hearing what somebody is saying. It is the ability to focus completely on them, understand their message, and respond thoughtfully. Many mental health services such as the Samaritans or Nightline, train their volunteers in Active Listening. I was trained as an Active Listener for Nightline while I was at university, so here are some verbal and non-verbal tips that I remember from my experiences volunteering for them.

Verbal

Ask open questions. Closed questions (questions that can only be answered with a one-word answer) can sometimes be useful when trying to get information, but the constant use of them can make the flow of the conversation difficult. Open questions encourage the person you’re supporting, to talk openly about their experiences and how they’re feeling. Some examples of open questions are: “How are you feeling about…?”, “Tell me more about…”, or “What happened when…?”.

Avoid redirecting the conversation towards yourself. Personal anecdotes can be helpful, as it shows the person you’re listening to that you understand and can relate to what they’re saying. It can encourage them that they are not alone in what they are going through. However, when using personal anecdotes, make sure to ask an open question afterwards, so the conversation is redirected back to the person you’re listening to. They should be the focus of the discussion.

Don’t be afraid to backtrack. If something is mentioned earlier in the conversation but the conversation flow didn’t give opportunity to discuss it in-depth, don’t be afraid to bring it back up again. A way you can do this, is by saying: “Earlier you mentioned this, would you like to talk more about it?”. Not only does it give the person you’re supporting a chance to speak about something that they may be struggling with, but it also shows that you were listening and that you remembered an earlier part of their conversation.

Empathy .  Asking questions is really important for getting information about the speaker’s experiences and feelings, but without empathy, it might feel like an interview. Saying “It sounds like you’re going through a really difficult time”, or “That must have been really hard”, to the person you’re supporting, validates their feelings and shows that you’re understanding how they feel. Empathy can also be linked with an open question to continue the conversation flow, for example: “It can be hard when… how has it been affecting you?”.

Non-Verbal

Body Language. Looking at the person you’re listening to, even if they’re not looking back at you, is important. If they take a glance at you and you’re looking around the room, or at your watch or phone, it suggests to them that you’re distracted and aren’t really listening. However, if they take a glance at you and you’re looking at them, it shows that your attention is unwavering.

Silences. Sometimes there will be silences in a conversation. Whilst silences can feel uncomfortable, they will always feel more uncomfortable for the listener than they will for the speaker. The person you’re supporting is likely to have so many thoughts that they’re trying to put across into words, they need time to think. This is particularly likely if they aren’t used to talking about how they feel. Silences are important for that. Signs that a silence is necessary for a speaker to have space to think, could be them not finishing a sentence, closing their eyes, or saying “umm” or “errr”. However, signs that a silence is uncomfortable for the speaker could be them looking around the room, or fidgeting. If this happens, ask an open question to get the conversation flowing again.

But, don’t forget that it is okay to not know what to say. Be gentle and patient with yourself; even trained mental health professionals can struggle for words sometimes. And it’s okay to be honest with the person that you’re supporting, and tell them that. Hearing “I don’t know what to say, but I really care about you and I want to try to help” can do wonders for someone who feels alone, scared, and suicidal.

If you need us, we are here. Leave a message on 0115 880 0282, or send an email to crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk.

Laura

Suicide Crisis Support Officer

The University of Grief: the impact of bereavement by suicide on a young person starting a new chapter in their life

Suicide. It is a huge word that has so many different meanings, different viewpoints and different attitudes. There is a huge stigma to the word too. People always feel uncomfortable to say it. And that’s understandable. That one seven-letter word can be the heaviest weight to someone who is bereaved by it…

It has been over two years for me now, since my father sadly left this world back in February 2018. I was nineteen years old back then, and still so young. Initially, as most people affected by bereavement feel, I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know how to function. The best word to describe is numb. So many thoughts were racing through my head. When I first found out, I didn’t know what to do. You would expect me to be crying. But that didn’t happen for me. Instead, I just felt numb. Lifeless. And most importantly – lost. Lost because, how am I supposed to navigate the world around me when a piece of my life who has been present ever since the day I was born, has been taken?

It felt like the loss of my father came at one of the biggest moments in my life. Just three months after his death, I found myself sitting my A-Level exams with a place at university on the line. I was studying non-stop, and I like to think that the pain made me use my study as a distraction. In retrospect, it seems crazy how I managed to juggle losing my dad to suicide – all those emotions, thoughts and confusion – and studying for exams that would literally determine which university I would attend. On top of that, I was also working at my part-time job, as well as contending with all the other issues that a typical 19-year-old boy has to deal with. It all seems overwhelming. Overwhelming doesn’t even feel like the right word – it’s exhausting. Draining. Scary. Uncertain.

Losing your parent at such a young age is something that nobody should ever, ever have to experience. But in September – 7 months after my dad’s death – an even bigger life change was impending. I was starting university and living away from my family for the first time in my life. Studying at university is always something I have wanted to do, and my dad supported my ambitions. There is so much support out there for people who are affected by suicide – The Tomorrow Project is a fantastic example – but it is difficult to find somebody who is in the exact same circumstances as me. Living and studying at a new place, in a new city, and knowing nobody at all. It was a lot to deal with.

There’s a lot of uncovered ground and unchartered territory, when it comes to the effects of bereavement on education. But when you throw bereavement by suicide into that, things get even more difficult. My first month at university was, admittedly, a good one. I had managed to gain new social connections and had the time of my life during the infamous fresher’s week. All of this juxtaposed with the feelings of grief and loneliness I was experiencing at the same time. However, a few months down the line and things had changed drastically.

I had made some friends during the first few weeks at university and felt like I was having fun. I was for sure living the typical student experience. However, these ‘friends’ I had made soon started to drift away from me with no reason. And that is when everything turned sour. I felt so alone and unwanted, when my messages to meet up were met with an excuse, or sometimes even a lack of response. I really thought these people were my friends, and we were going to experience the rest of our university lives together. That was far from the truth. This led me into a downward spiral, and I felt so unmotivated to even study for my course. This obviously had a drastic effect on my academic life, because I was not achieving the grades I should have if I reached my full potential. I didn’t make any social effort, and I didn’t join any societies. I was always alone in my room. Sometimes, I would cry for hours on end. I felt so alone and worthless, because everybody around me was ‘living their best life’ whilst I was on my own. And being away from my family didn’t help. Some nights, my dad would be on my mind more than other times. And sometimes, the circumstances of his death played heavily on my mind. I had nobody to talk to, and I was so distanced from my family that I really felt all alone in this world. That is a feeling I would never wish on anybody, not even my worst enemy.

When I look back on this, do I have regrets? Of course I do. I wish I had joined more clubs, I wish I didn’t put my trust in those so-called friends, and sometimes I even wish I had decided to take a year out before starting university after everything I had been through. However, one significant thing I wish I had known at the time is the importance to accept and acknowledge your situation. My situation was unique – I was living away from home for the first time at university, so soon after losing my dad to suicide. We still had not had the inquest at this point, and that was also playing on my mind. And I really wish I had took the time to realise this. When I was crying my eyes out and blaming myself for not having any friends, I now realise this wasn’t an abnormal reaction. I had been through a hell of a lot, and it makes perfect sense how I didn’t feel in the most social mood at the time. I had trusted the people who were my friends at the start of university, because I wanted to fit in and have a sense of normalcy. After everything that year, I finally felt like a normal young adult during fresher’s week. I had so many people around me, but now I realise that I still felt alone. Nobody else around me was in my situation. It was always an internal battle as to whether or not I wanted to tell people about losing my dad. In my mind, I thought – will they view me differently? Will they see me as vulnerable? Will they treat me differently and patronise me? I never explicitly told the people around me about it, but most people found out after the date of my dad’s birthday. I had posted a picture of him on my social media in memory alongside a caption, and that’s when people realised. Messages came in, with people saying they were ‘there for me’. But – nobody actually did check up on me, apart from my mum. Nobody asked me, ‘are you okay?’, in the long run. Three small words, which can mean so much.

Fast forward to now, and things are… different. I am still not in the place I want to be, but that’s okay. I’m working towards it. I am now grateful to have actually made a few more friends at university, and my grades have improved. And I’ve also struggled with mental health myself. Which makes me feel almost connected to my dad in a way – I just wish I could have helped him with his mental health issues when he was struggling. Now I understand what it feels like to be in such a low state of mind. I guess the point I’m trying to make is – it is SO important to acknowledge that your situation is different to everyone around you. We are all different, and that’s what makes us so special. I constantly felt, during my first semester, that I needed to be going out every night and making memories to feel normal. But now I realise, things were not ‘normal’ and it is understandable that someone who had just lost their father felt socially distant from others. Now I am able to look back and say – it’s okay. It’s okay that I didn’t have the typical first semester, because my entire situation was far from ordinary. I shouldn’t feel the need to be doing a certain thing and living the typical student life, because my situation is different and that’s okay. In regard to the fear of telling people about how my dad is no longer here – I am now able to speak about it more openly. Life does get better, even when it doesn’t seem like it will. I still have a long way to go, but I am lucky enough to say that I feel like I am working towards recovery. The most important thing is to realise that everyone is different, and everyone has their struggles. As long as you are trying to be the best version of yourself, then that’s all that matters! It doesn’t matter what other people are doing – your own wellbeing is paramount.

S

Tips for supporting someone in crisis

Howdy, Katie here!

Supporting someone you care about through suicide crisis can be a scary thing to do. You may worry about not saying the ‘right’ thing or making things worse but it is important to take any disclosures seriously.

Some tips for supporting someone in crisis –

  • Empathise with them
  • Be non-judgdemental
  • Really listen and be open
  • Don’t be afraid to ask ‘are you feeling suicidal?’
  • Take some time out for your own self care

Our suicide crisis service at The Tomorrow Project is here to help  –

  • Primary care pathway
  • Short term support
  • Open to all ages
  • Covering Nottingham/shire

If you want to reach out, leave us a message on 0115 880 0282 or email us at crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk

We are here, as and when needed.

Katie – Suicide Crisis Service Manager

Suicide: How to Help

Join the team this week to discuss Suicide and How to Help. Many people who have thoughts of suicide can be helped in getting through their moment of crisis if they have someone they trust, who will spend time with them, listen, take them seriously and help them talk about their thoughts and feelings. Often its our own anxiety which makes it difficult to ask or to talk about suicide with an individual. Let’s get these conversations started!

Welcome to Self harm and How to Help week

Self harm does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, age, religion, disability or gender orientation. It is a coping strategy that helps people from all walking of life to manage their hurt and distress.

The truth is we can all help. Sometimes just talking to a family member or friend about your problems might be enough. You need to learn to recognise your feelings before, during and after the self harm. This can help you to identify your triggers and how to cope with them.

Join the team this week as they share there wisdom on Self harm and how to help.

Connecting with Older Adults – Inter-generational friendships

Growing up I was very close to my grandparents in a way that was different to my attachment with parents. I adored them and I knew they adored me. I also had older neighbours at a few of the houses I lived in and I would wave to them from my window or go and visit them and talk to them often. It never occurred to me that this was unusual in any way but this week’s theme has made me realise that perhaps it was. They were my friends. My father was a priest and so being around older adults in the church environment was perhaps a source of my relatedness with the older generation. When two people at polar ends of the life cycle come together, they have many fascinating dissimilarities to explore but also some shared experiences which bring them together.

There’s something about that distance of decades which reminds us more starkly of our shared humanity.  Spending time with young people reminds older adults of their youth, perhaps even helping them to emotionally connect to the experience of their youth and to be more childlike in the moment. And for the younger person, they have an opportunity to understand old age and appreciate the privileges and difficulties of that time of life that they will one day experience themselves.

I remember enjoying looking at old photographs and being mesmerised by the wonder of how people change and travel through life. It never made me feel apprehensive about old age, rather, more accepting of it. When I looked at my grandparents faces, I saw the child or the young adult that they had once been somewhere within their lines and grey hair. The connection between older adults and younger people is a magical and precious thing which unfortunately we have been without for some time. We can find ways to connect safely so that this important connection which is beneficial to so many, can continue to be enjoyed.

This is a picture of me and my family with my wonderful grandfather who sadly died a couple of months ago. My children adored spending time with him and he got so much joy from our visits.

Podcast: Music & Mental Health

This weeks theme is Older Adults and Isolation, loneliness affects us all, with almost one in four of us feeling lonely during lockdown. Whether you need some company in the middle of the night, or to know you’re not alone, why not listen to one of our podcasts?

Join today’s podcast hosted by the wonderful Sarah Kessling Training Team Manager (Contracts) & Specialist Trainer as she discusses the benefits music can have on our mental health with local Musician Joey Collins.

Enjoy!

The Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation For The Elderly

  • Slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are progressive illnesses prevalent among the elderly. It’s estimated that up to 50% of all people over 85 have some form of dementia. However, the National Institute on Aging reminds us that “it is not a normal part of aging. Many people live into their 90s and beyond without any signs of dementia.”

Dementia destroys memory, disrupts crucial mental functions and can wreak havoc with emotions. However, a recent study showed that a combination of meditation and breathing exercises can help slow down the development of dementia-related diseases. Other studies suggest that mindfulness meditation helps people cope better with the anxiety, stress and depression that often accompany memory loss.

  • Enhancing digestion

Our digestive functions can be affected by a variety of factors, including diet and age. Luckily, it seems that meditation can improve digestion. The deep breathing that occurs naturally during meditation improves circulation and increases oxygen levels in the blood. For the elderly, regular meditation may afford relief from digestive issues that aren’t caused by other ailments.

  • Developing a sharp, focused mind

One of the great benefits of mindfulness is its ability to sharpen mental alertness and ward off decline. Regular meditation causes the brain’s physical structure to change. For example, the amygdala region that’s associated with processing negative emotions such as stress, worry and anxiety often shrinks, while the areas responsible for self-awareness, personality development and planning (such as the prefrontal cortex) increase. As a result, meditators experience improved focus, creativity and cognitive function: a great boon for seniors.

  • Managing moods and emotions

Managing moods and emotions is a challenge for most of us, regardless of our age. As we grow older, physiological changes may impact mood stability and make it even more difficult to control our emotional reactions. Add to that the difficulty of adjusting to the loss of independence and, often, the passing of people and pets who are near and dear to us, and it’s no wonder that experiences of loneliness, sadness, and even despair are prevalent among the elderly. Meditation, with its focus on non-judgmental presence, teaches us that we can observe our emotions without being compelled to react to them. There is also evidence that meditation enhances positive emotions of well-being and empathy for young and old alike.

  • Improving memory

Meditation stimulates the memory centers within the brain. And since memory loss is one of the undesired “side effects” of aging, improved memory and cognitive function are precious allies as we grow older. Preliminary evidence indicates that mindfulness helps maintain both long- and short-term memory functions.

  • Promoting relaxation and calmness

Ultimately, we all need to take a break and just breathe. Putting aside time to simply smell the roses, take a walk or connect with loved ones does wonders for everyone, regardless of age. Mindfulness for seniors has a calming effect that can’t be achieved by prescription drugs. Meditation helps the elderly relax, organize thoughts more efficiently, and maintain a clear perspective.

Aja,

Trainer