Listening to Mental Health

Jake Orlowitz
Jan 18, 2017 · 3 min read

I recently had the chance to sit with a group of amazing people and hear their stories. Before we started we laid out some ground rules. This is what we agreed to. It’s good guidance for any tough personal conversation.

  • Listen. It’s the only and most important thing you have to do. To listen fully is powerful and empowering.
  • Don’t judge. Make this a safe space.
  • Details of who was here or who said what are not for sharing outside this room. Repeating general or sufficiently anonymous things you learned is ok. Talking specifically about your own experience afterwards is often helpful.
  • It’s brave to share. It’s not required. It’s always ok to say “I’d rather not talk about it.”
  • You are free to leave at any time.
  • Every type, stage, or severity of situation or condition is relevant. Your feelings and emotions are not in competition with others.
  • We’re here for support, not to diagnose or prescribe.
  • If you need to cry, that’s ok.
  • Anger is a healthy emotion and not something to be ashamed of.
  • Humor is great, if you’re speaking about your own experience.
  • It’s always ok to seek, ask for, and receive help.
  • Some conditions are temporary. Some require continual monitoring and maintenance. Some go away but then come back. Bring whatever you’re dealing with, wherever it falls on your path.
  • Some people take medications, others don’t. Neither is right or wrong, it’s whatever works for you.
  • Your experience is unique. Your story matters.
  • You are not solely defined by mental health, but you may be relieved, strengthened, or enriched by addressing it.
  • Parts of what you struggle with may be tied to parts of what make you great. It’s about degree of disruption or wanting to change something that determines if it is a problem.
  • Just because you feel or do some of the same things as others doesn’t automatically mean you have their condition. If someone’s story resonates with you, that’s important. At the same time, it just raises nerves to think everyone else’s challenges are what you have to solve in yourself.
  • You don’t take on responsibility for the health of others who share. You can be an ally. You can ask if people are ok. You can show compassion. But don’t take on the burden of fixing each person, and do remember just how valuable listening can be.
  • Outside the room, ask permission to re-engage. “Do you mind if I ask you about…” is a good way to respectfully bring up a conversation in between circles. It’s ok to finish a circle and not want to discuss it again until the next time: it’s ok to keep some things just for, and for just during, a circle.
  • Learn from each other. Share your tips. “What worked for me…” is a lovely starting point. “What worked for you?” is a fantastic question.
  • Mental health carries a powerful stigma. The more we are open about it, the less that weighs all of us down.
  • Keep in mind that specific intent to seriously harm yourself or others has to be confidentially reported. This is not a threat, but for safety and the chance to be evaluated or protected. For clarity, merely thinking about self-harm or wanting to self-harm is not the same as currently self-harming or planning to self-harm. Saying you feel like hurting someone isn’t the same as actually hurting or planning to hurt someone.
  • You don’t always feel better right after sharing. It can take time to unwrap, unravel, process, digest, reflect, and integrate. Give yourself that time.
  • There is surprising strength, beauty, power, and clarity in the trust and vulnerability of sharing and listening. Thank you for being here.

The J Curve

It gets better. First, it gets worse.

Jake Orlowitz

Written by

Internet citizen. Seeker of well people and sane societies. Head of The Wikipedia Library — @WikiLibrary. Happy to have works (re)published!

The J Curve

It gets better. First, it gets worse.

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