Monday, 7 December 2020

Listening

Emily talks about the importance of listening.

- Emily Maybanks

Many of us forget that we all possess one of the most effective tools to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis. Listening.

For a person experiencing a mental health problem, having an empathetic listener can be calming and reassuring – even healing. However, having someone there to listen is important for everyone, not just for people suffering from a mental health crisis. 2020 has been a challenging year for us all, and it has meant that we’ve been unable to meet up with people and therefore it’s harder to listen to our friends and family when they’ve been in need, and vice versa.

I’ve been working in a secondary school since September and I have learnt more about the importance of listening than ever before, and I would also say that I have certainly developed my own listening skills. Listening to my students when they have a concern or when they wish to contribute in class is something I know to be important because when I was a student myself at school and at university, I valued those teachers and lecturers who genuinely wanted to listen to what I had to say. Therefore, I’ve ensured that when my students want to say something, I’m looking at them in the eye and making sure I am taking in what they say as well as understanding.

Similarly, I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by colleagues who truly listen to me when I’m having difficulty or struggling, and this means a lot to me because I feel comfortable talking to them. This is particularly special to me because I also know how it feels to not be listened to and to have my worries and troubles mocked by people I have opened up to. This has made me feel hurt and almost mistrustful of others. It’s so reassuring to feel supported in such a high-pressured but rewarding job.

From my own experiences, these are the qualities that I believe make a good, empathetic listener:
  • Giving positive attention and encouragement, such as eye contact, non-verbal nods, and open body language – this is something I have picked up supporting students at school and is especially important as I support students whose first language isn’t English  
  • Allowing silences – remember the words silent and listen have the same letters!
  • Giving your time freely without making the person feel like they are intruding – I have often been made to feel like a burden when speaking to people as they never seemed to have time for me
  • Not interrupting or talking over the other person
  • Responding naturally and showing warmth. This is especially important when I listen to students as if there isn’t a comfortable and secure environment for them, they won’t open up
  • Listening to understand, not to respond
  • Sharing feelings and related experiences appropriately – enough to reassure without taking over. It’s good to share personal experiences as it maintains empathy
  • Avoiding giving advice – sometimes all that is needed is just to get it out in the open, not necessarily asking for any advice in return

Giving someone a safe space and time to share whatever’s on their mind is such a powerful way to support them. 

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available


My name is Emily (Em). I recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting where I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students' newspaper - Waterfront. I am currently an EAL Teacher and LSA at my old secondary school in Reading. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now also as a graduate, as well as various other health issues, and I support friends and students who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences - both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help and inspire others.

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