Have you ever tried to speak to someone who was not paying attention to what you said? Remember how frustrating that was? On the other hand, do you recall talking to someone who was actively listening, their body language matched their facial expressions, they did not interrupt you and made eye contact with you while you spoke? I am sure different people and instances are coming to your mind right now. Listening is an important part of effective communication, and communication plays a great role in mental illness recovery and mental wellness. 

As of recent, many African young adults have been working towards observing their mental health and breaking the stigma around the matter. There are few organizations and individuals that are now coming up with different spaces and activities offering mental health awareness and wellbeing. We were raised to not open up about our personal stories, let alone share our issues with people. We need to recognize the courage, strength and vulnerability it takes from the speaker to open up and offer them the space they need to let things out.

I know in today’s world of DMs and tweets, we are always trying to be heard, always ready with an answer, that sometimes we forget that it is also important to pause and listen. This can result in the other person thinking that we are ignoring their feelings and opinions. Before you ask somebody how they are doing, make sure you are ready to face the different possible answers and ask because you genuinely care. I believe there is nothing worse than telling somebody how you feel with total honesty, only to be met with an inactive listener whose body language and verbal actions are completely incoherent. And when somebody finishes telling you how they are doing, please do not reply with something like;

“you should be thankful, other people have it worse” or “It will be fine”.

Remember, not everyone is in need of your opinion coupled with your dismissive comments. What to become a better listener? Here are a few tips and a safe space for your fellows;

  • Try to relax and set a comfortable tone
  • Keep eye contact
  • Mind your body language
  • If the person says something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. For example, “What do you mean when you say…”
  • If your mind wanders, admit it and apologise
  • Empathise, try and gauge what comments you make and if they are important or called for

A bad listener can make you feel as if you should not be sharing your story. It can make one doubt themselves, and it can make one anxious which may lead them to worry about becoming a burden to people Listening is an art form and a gift. Not listening is not only incredibly rude, but it can be dehumanizing, as it makes one feel like they are not worth the time and effort. Practice these tips and always try to be the safe space needed in your community.