THE BLOG
10/09/2015 08:02 BST | Updated 10/09/2016 06:12 BST

You Don't Need to Be an Expert Listener to Reach Out

Listening really does have the power to dramatically change how someone is feeling. At a time when you believe you are not worth caring about, somebody asking you how you are can alter your point of view and bring peace of mind.

Listening really does have the power to dramatically change how someone is feeling. At a time when you believe you are not worth caring about, somebody asking you how you are can alter your point of view and bring peace of mind.

This year, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, Samaritans simply asks that people reach out to a friend, colleague, family member or stranger who may be struggling to cope by asking: Are you OK?

Simple questions like this give people the room to discuss their thoughts and feelings, without any pressure on them, or the listener, to find the answer. Samaritans knows that when given this space to talk through their feelings, those who are finding life difficult are better able to think through their problems and work out a way through.

Such conversations can however, seem daunting and it is understandable that many feel worried about not being able to find a solution. Samaritans always say that there is absolutely no need to provide answers or a solution; in fact, telling people what to do about their problems may well make things worse. We encourage people instead to ask open questions, listen and reflect back.

Tips on how reach out this World Suicide Prevention Day:

Ask open questions

Often people want to talk but are too afraid to do so. As a result, they wait until somebody asks how they are. This makes it difficult to know where to begin a conversation as the person you are trying to help will likely have a lot on their mind.

The most effective way to counter this is through asking open questions. Questions that help someone talk through their problems instead of having to answer yes or no, are the most helpful. It is best to focus on 'When, where, what, how and why'. At Samaritans we call this style of conversation active listening. Alternatively, you can start a conversation and reach out by simply asking: "Are you OK?"

Find out how they feel

Remember it is just as important to ask somebody how they are feeling as it is to ask them what is on their mind. Revealing innermost emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, hope, jealousy and despair can be a huge relief.

Listen and then reflect back

Demonstrating that you have listened and understand the way someone is feeling stops them feeling isolated. Repeat back the most important things someone has said, asking follow up questions to help them delve deeper, for example, 'You tell me that you feel like you cannot get on, can you explain to me in more detail what is worrying you?'

Check they know where to get help

If someone has been feeling low for some time it is likely they will need some additional support to feel better. You can encourage somebody to get the help they need by signposting them to services and then offering to support them access it. Good ways to do this are by offering to go with them to the GP, asking them if they have others they can trust to talk to and telling them about Samaritans services.

Above all, it is important that listeners are not afraid to say the wrong thing. Together we can reduce suicide, you can start by simply asking somebody 'Are you OK?'

Samaritans are here any time of day or night to give people the time and space to talk about what's getting to them. You can tell us anything, it stays between us.

People can call Samaritans on: 08457 90 90 90 (calls will cost 2p per minute plus your telephone company's access charge), email jo@samaritans.org, text 07725 90 90 90 or visit samaritans.org to find details of the nearest branch.

Follow the hashtag #RUOK for further advice