Perhaps you have a friend who hasn’t been socialising as much recently. You might be worried that a colleague isn’t showing up for work, or you may have noticed that your partner is more tired and withdrawn than usual and doesn’t seem to be communicating in the way that you’re used to. Don’t be afraid to say: ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but you don’t seem yourself at the moment. Are you OK?’ Most people will instinctively respond with: ‘I’m fine.’ But you can follow up, saying: ‘OK, well, if you’re not, I have time to chat or would like to listen to what you’re going through. I’m here for you.’
Signs and behaviours that may indicate someone might be having a tough time could include:
• lacking energy or appearing particularly tired;
• seeming irritable, restless and agitated;
• appearing more tearful than usual;
• not wanting to talk to or be with people;
• not wanting to do things they usually enjoy;
• changing their routines, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal;
• using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings;
• finding it hard to cope with everyday things;
• not liking or taking care of themselves, or feeling that they don’t matter;
• being untypically clumsy or accident-prone;
• becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family;
• not replying to messages or seeming distant;
• becoming angry, aggressive or defensive; or
• doing more risky things, or becoming self-destructive.
Big life changes
Interpreting how someone else is feeling can be difficult and, for some people, there may not be any obvious changes like the ones listed above. Emotions show up differently in everyone, and they may be more difficult to spot if you’re not seeing much of the person you’re concerned about. It’s important to understand that there are certain situations that can affect how someone is feeling, for example:
• relationship and family problems;
• loss, including the loss of a friend or a family member through bereavement;
• financial worries;
• job-related stress;
• college or study-related stress;
• loneliness and isolation;
• painful and/or disabling physical illness.
The list above details examples of significant change, and it’s particularly important to look out for those around you who might be experiencing these big shifts in their lives, as they can all trigger new and conflicting emotions. More often than not, these times pass and we pick ourselves up, shake ourselves down and adjust to our new circumstances. Change can bring positive outcomes, such as personal growth and new opportunities. But adjusting to change can be very difficult, and change that’s outside
our control can make us feel anxious and stressed. For situations like the ones above, we should never underestimate the value of showing concern and care for each other. If you notice someone behaving differently to normal, then take the time to check in and see if they are OK. Sometimes people say things which might help you recognise that they are struggling to cope. Listen out for negative self-talk, when someone is down on themselves, or talks about feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless. They might mention feeling trapped, as if they are unable to break out of internal thoughts and feelings, or that they have a desire to escape from experiences in the outside world.
They might make leading statements, either verbally, in messages or on social media, such as, ‘You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through,’ or ‘It’s like the whole world is against me.’ People sometimes say these things in the hope you will pick up on them and ask what they mean so that they can talk about how they’re feeling. Or, they might make negative statements about themselves, such as ‘No one loves me,’ or ‘I’m a waste of space.’ Often, they might pretend that they are joking when they say these things.
We all experience not being OK differently. Not everyone who is struggling to cope will use these phrases. In fact, some people might not be chatting as much as they usually would, or may not be posting or messaging at all. If there’s someone you’re worried about and you want to check in with them and make sure they’re OK, try to do this using the channel you normally communicate with them through.
Be mindful of someone’s tone
UKCP Psychotherapist Andy Ryan
When listening to someone, be mindful of the tone of voice they use, and their general way of being. If you are seeing a constant low mood, risk-taking behaviour or notice someone withdrawing, this is where interaction may be required. Be aware of and comment on positive changes and ask open questions. Also, be aware if the person you are listening to becomes numb or increasingly desensitised to events in their life. This can be an indication they need to increase the frequency of appointments or support from their therapist, if they have one, or the support offered by family members and friends. At work, you might notice someone making a sudden and steady withdrawal from social connection, or notice that they don’t want to be asked questions such as ‘How are you?’ This can be another sign that they’re having a hard time or going through something difficult.
THIS IS AN EXTRACT FROM HOW TO LISTEN BY KATIE COLOMBUS OF THE SAMARITANS