Let’s cut each other some slack
By LOUISA DEVADASON
Mental health is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. It’s defined as a few things but it basically refers to one’s ability to enjoy life, be well-adjusted and achieve psychological resilience. Someone struggling with mental health may suffer varying degrees of stress, anxiety, depression, grief, addiction, learning disabilities, relationship issues and in more chronic, severe cases mood and other psychological disorders.
I was a psychology student at HELP University a few years ago. On one of my first days there, the dean, Goh Chee Leong, said something that has stayed with me.
Reality is in the eye of the beholder.
It resonated with me more powerfully than the original phrase. It has become the foundation for which I stand on when listening to others and empathising with their stories as they see them.
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It’s human nature to seek to simplify each other – to make it seem easier to predict each other’s next move or to just feel like we get each other. However, we are highly complex beings. Inside each and every one of us are experiences and memories that we have made sense of in our own unique way.
We have values, views and beliefs that were nurtured in us and/or reinforced by the unpredictable things that have happened in our lives. Suffice to say, we’re intricate, messy and mysterious to one another.
Who, How, What, Why
If you’ve ever been counselled, you might have observed that the counsellor does two things:
- ask a lot of non-judgemental open-ended questions and
- summarise the content back to the sender.
What does this do? It provides the sender room to articulate his or her processes and intentions.
Summarising the content back gives the sender an opportunity to hear what he or she said and it gives the receiver an opportunity to confirm that he or she understood correctly.
I know, I know. We’re not counsellors. However, I think the essence of this, asking more questions and seeking to understand where each other is coming from is the first step to giving each other meaningful support and turning good intentions into functional actions. These are two of the most important things you can do for someone going through a hard time.
Opening doors to empathy
It’s daunting to see someone you love or anyone really, suffering or going through a rough patch.
Opening ourselves to finding out more about what’s going on with them can replace stigma with empathy and hopefully show you that we are all not so different and that at the heart of it we’re just people trying to make the best of our lives and situations.
“Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.” —Audrey Hepburn