How many times a day do we ask, or are we asked, “how are you?” Countless. This simple phrase has become a common courtesy in our culture, but those three words lack meaning. Our responses are often fine, good, ok, tired–anything to end the exchange quickly. We don’t answer genuinely.
Seven college students took a hard look at this cultural phenomenon, and thus, the How Are You Project was born. This group of interns sat in a coffee shop for 11 hours (which you can check out here) waiting for someone to genuinely answer the simple question: “How are you?”
Think about this. 1 in 5 college students are, have, or will suffer with a mental illness. Mental illness isn’t an easy topic to discuss, but how can we change the stigma surrounding the topic with this simple question? What if we gave an honest answer when someone asked how we are doing?
Once the question is asked and we receive that honest response, then a real conversation can happen. Talking about mental health is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The creators of the How Are You Project have compiled a list of four easy tips based on expert advice to help start the conversation around mental health:
It is hard to understand mental illness unless you have experienced it yourself. It’s not something you can easily see like a broken bone. Think about mental illness like drowning before you know how to swim.
You don’t know what you are supposed to do or how you should react. You feel alone. But you CAN learn how to swim.
I recently attended a mental health first aid training where we were asked whether we agree or disagree with the following statement: if you ask someone if they have considered suicide, it will put the idea in their head. Many people agree this is true, but the research shows that it is the opposite. By simply asking, we show that we care about the person and their well-being. Ask and listen nonjudgmentally. Don’t treat them any different than you did before, but let them know that you are concerned and are willing to help.
While asking can be helpful, there are many things we should avoid saying:
- Just snap out of it
- Everyone feels that way sometimes
- Distracting yourself will help
- You’re just complaining
Remember, ask and listen non-judgmentally. Let your friend know that even if they aren’t ready to open up yet, you will be there when they are. Make them a priority by silencing your cell phone and giving them your undivided attention. Talking about mental health is difficult, especially for someone who is suffering. Show them that you care and are ready to support them in any way possible.
Don’t just have the conversation one time and call it good. Follow-up and give them your continued support. Don’t treat them any differently than you did before. Your conversations shouldn’t revolve around their mental health, but make sure you check in frequently. You can also offer recommendations for support services.
Check out the How Are You Project at their website howareyouproject.org to find out more and learn how you can help. The next time you ask someone “how are you?” make sure you let them know you are genuinely interested and want to know how they are. Make the promise.