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Why simply listening is often better than any advice you can give to someone who is struggling

Therapist Joe Rich shares his method to foster openness about mental health.
January 26, 2022 2:44 p.m. EST
January 26, 2022 2:44 p.m. EST

We're heading into year two of the pandemic, and we want to ask: how are you feeling? Many people may joke and compare it to "groundhog day," but it's easy to slip from being hopeful (ie: when does this end) to, in some cases, depressed (ie: will this ever end?). Initially, in the first year, it was all about the science behind COVID-19—understanding germs and the importance of social distancing. And now heading into year two, we're shifting our focus to our mental wellbeing, dealing with isolation, and the grief and the loss we may have suffered. In some ways, we are close to recovery, but we may start to realize just how exhausted we really are, and why it's important to create coping strategies to heal for the long term.

To keep this conversation about recovery going, family therapist Joe Rich shared a great anagram to help you understand and listen to those around you—plus,  encourage you to speak up when you need someone in your corner. 


When it comes to mental health, listening is helping. Learning to really listen to what people say can help you identify signs of early onset of mental health concerns. It can also make a world of difference to how someone feels. The act of really listening—not just to what we hear but attention to what we see and experience of ourselves and others—is not always the easiest thing to do. It sounds simple to just listen, but sometimes we can get caught up in our own heads during a conversation. Listening to the whole, which includes changes in behaviour, attitudes, and participation in the system of family or perhaps work or friendship is vital to opening up the discussion around mental health. Listening includes listening for a change in tone, attitude, the language being used but also listening to sleep habits, eating habits, etc. 


Thinking about being silent is helpful when listening.  This should be about what you hear, not what you want to say. Silence doesn't mean not participating, it means encouraging the conversation by asking questions and showing empathy by holding back your opinions, judgements,  trying to fix it all, etc. The harder one listens, the more people talk. When you do want to speak, you want to talk about what they have just said. When you do this, the other person gets the message that you're interested in what they have to say, which then encourages them to speak up more, which ultimately creates a stronger listening environment. 


What you hear may be a relief for the other person but now what to do with it?  Enlisting the help of others, especially those who can be helpful professionally, is the best practice. Enlist also may mean building a team of other friends and family who can be helpful. Be very specific to who you enlist as those people need to be prepared to listen and not judge. This could also mean finding out about services available such as counselling, group therapy, and more. 

Focusing on Youth 

What about our youth? Once we have decided to listen, we need to set the horizon line for all youth as thriving not just surviving.  Being hopeful and optimistic with youth is often a key to helping them through the more difficult moments, whether it's developmental (ie:  dealing with adolescence) or situational (Covid-19 and dealing with isolation). Keep in mind youth helping youth has great value, so enlisting their peers and older siblings could be a great idea.

When it comes to mental health, every action counts! Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 26, and help create positive change for those living with mental health issues. For every text message, mobile or long-distance call made by Bell, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for every tweet or TikTok video with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on TwitterInstagramFacebookYouTubePinterestTikTok or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But that’s just the first step: Visit for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.

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