If you haven’t heard, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and it’s an honor to do my part in continuing to bring awareness about this issue. If you haven’t read my previous post about my experience with suicidal thoughts and the public reaction to that post, please do so. Sharing my experience with suicidal thoughts was so difficult, and for that reason (and a lot of other reasons too), many others who are contemplating suicide keep it to themselves and struggle alone.
Because of how hard it is to open up about our mental health, our loved ones must know that we care about them enough to check in on them when we can. I reach out to my good friend, Jen, about once every week or two just to make sure she’s okay mentally. This ritual started once she became pregnant with my godson and it continued well after because it was really helpful in making sure that she feels supported. I also think it has brought us closer than we already were, and she knows that I love and care for her dearly. This ritual that we started is now something I do with my other loved ones as well, and it’s helped me ensure that I’m being the best friend/daughter/wife I can be.
Now, let’s get into these five easy steps for how to effectively do a mental health check-in for someone you love. Here’s everything you need to know!
1. Reach out in a way that works for both of you.
For Jen, I can either text her or send her a DM on Instagram to do my mental check-in because that works for us. She’s a busy mom and wife, so it’s easier for us to just communicate that way. However, when I check up on my mom, I prefer to Facetime her because seeing her face and hearing her voice will tell me a lot of information about how she’s feeling. Whatever method of communication you choose, the first step is of course to reach out. A simple, “Hey, just checking in. How are you feeling today?” or “Hey, I’m starting this new thing where I check in on the mental health of my friends. How’s your mental health been lately?” will do just fine.
2. Be attentive in your response and read the room!
This one requires a bit of explanation, but we’ll get there. Patience my friend. So, when you do your mental health check-in, you might not get a response right away. That’s okay! Don’t send multiple texts because they may just be overwhelmed at that particular moment. If they do respond and say, “Hey, I’m good,” and it’s very short, that’s okay too! They really could be fine at that moment or they may not be ready to talk about it yet. If this is the case, you can say, “That’s so great to hear. I’m here if you need me!” See? Simple! This lets them know that whether they really are okay or not, you are available.
Now, if they say, “Hey, my mental health has been all over the place because of X, Y, and Z,” make sure you read the room. Does it seem like they want advice, or do they need a safe space to vent? I learned in pre-marital counseling that not everyone is looking for advice when they’re venting, so make sure that you see which is the best way to support your loved one.
3. Know the person that you’re talking to.
This seems kind of obvious, but I’ll explain this one too. When I check in with my friend, Bri, I make sure that I ask if she ate anything that day. Sometimes, she gets so stressed that she doesn’t make time to eat, so she just doesn’t eat anything all day. Because of that, I know that if she tells me that she has a lot going on right now, I need to ask her if she had something to eat. Usually, when I ask her that, she knows that I’m going to encourage her to at least nibble on something, so she’ll get up and find something to eat.
Similarly, when my mom is having a stressful day at work, I’ll ask her if she ate yet because she will sometimes work through lunch (ahem, ahem — mom, I know you’re reading this lol). Although she has been getting a lot better at stopping to eat, I’ll still ask her just in case. A simple, “Have you eaten yet?” or “Have you taken a break yet?” shows that you know that person well and you want the best for them.
4. Avoid toxic positivity at all costs.
Toxic positivity is the best way to make sure no one ever opens up to you ever again. What is toxic positivity, you ask? Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania, defines toxic positivity as, “the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’s emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or — my pet peeve term — ‘positive vibes,’”.
So, let’s say I open up to you about a promotion that I thought I would get at work but didn’t receive. The following responses are all great examples of toxic positivity, which you want to avoid:
- “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.”
- “Just try to move on.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “Just be grateful for what you have.”
- “It could always be worse.”
These responses are a failed attempt at being positive, as they never help the situation. These responses are dismissive of the person’s feelings and can cause the person to feel guilty for feeling the way they do. Who would want to talk to a person who makes them feel guilty for feeling upset? Not I, and certainly not your loved one.
5. Ask what that person needs from you.
Something as simple as, “How can I best support you during this difficult time?” or “Is there anything I can do to help?” really lets the person know that you are willing to do what you can to be supportive. It places the power in their hands to think about what they need to feel supported, and if they can think of something that is within your ability to do, that’s perfect! If they don’t have any idea what you can do to help or they say there’s nothing you can do, one thing you can do is continue to check in on their mental health and offer a safe space for them.
You never know what someone else might be going through, and a quick mental health check-in could make all the difference. If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with, it’s this — remember that if someone chooses to open up to you by being vulnerable and sharing their thoughts and feelings, make sure that you do your part in respecting that person’s thoughts and emotions. By this, I mean try not to judge, shame, or make them feel less than when they open up to you.
I hope that this post implores you to start checking in on your friends and family or, if you’ve already been doing this, I hope it reminds you to check up on someone you may not have heard from in quite some time. We can all do something to continue spreading kindness and love all around!
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website about suicide prevention
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) — call 1800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — text HELLO to 741741
- Veterans Crisis Line — text 838255
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website