The struggles and strains of modern life can affect our mental health, and that of our loved ones, friends and colleagues. Such difficulties can be exacerbated by online and real-life taunting or cruelty.

From tragic news about public figures such as Caroline Flack to our own personal experiences, many of us have been exposed to the results of emotional distress. Never has it been more important to show compassion to those that are struggling – including ourselves. By being kind, we can change and save lives.

The Samaritans

The Samaritans is a registered charity aimed at providing support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope or at risk of suicide. This is provided either via their telephone helpline or online. Ultimately, whatever you’re facing – a Samaritan will face it with you, anytime of the day or night. In fact, every six seconds the Samaritans answer a call for help.

The Samaritans highlight the importance of treating people with kindness. They say that we all encounter emotional distress at some point in our lives, with 1 in 6 people experiencing problems such as anxiety and depression in any given week.

Therefore, it’s important for us to draw on these experiences to treat people with compassion. The Samaritans want to encourage a culture where people are confident to ask for help and give help to others when they need it; seeking to dispel any stigma about emotional distress.

Suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent. People who are unemployed are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in employment. The risk of suicidal behaviour also increases when an individual faces negative life events, such as a relationship breakdown, social isolation or experiences stigma, emotional distress or poor mental health.

Sarah Stone, Executive Director at the Samaritans in Wales says: “Showing compassion – towards yourself and others – is a skill that can be learned. Acting compassionately does not require any specific resource, time or money. It just relies on you being able to relate to someone else’s emotional state and, crucially, wanting to support them. The most important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be an expert to help someone experiencing distress. Compassion can change and save lives.”

Those experiencing emotional distress

It isn’t always possible to identify those who are going through emotional distress or suicidal feelings. However, there are signs that could suggest they are suffering from poor mental health. These being:

  • Lacking in energy or appearing regularly tired
  • Appearing more tearful than usual
  • Not wanting to socialise and becoming more withdrawn
  • A change in routine – such as sleeping more/less or eating more/less
  • An increase in alcohol consumption or drugs
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • Appearing restless or agitated
  • Making negative statements about themselves

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these sorts of behaviour can be an indication of a problem.

What to do

If you think you know someone who is experiencing emotional distress, there are some things you can do to help. Very often, the simple acts of talking and listening are powerful enough to make a significant difference. Other tips include:

Show you care

When engaging with someone who seems troubled, it’s important to focus on them. Ensure you make eye contact, minimise distractions (such as a mobile phone) and give them your full attention.

The Samaritans say: “Giving someone your undivided attention is a non-verbal way of showing them how much you care. It has an amazing effect. Remove anything from your line of sight that could distract you and really focus on learning something new about the person who is talking.”

Open Questions

Ask open questions, rather than questions that could be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This will encourage the person to talk and open up.

Be patient

It may take time for someone to open up. In fact, it may not be achieved in an initial conversation. Time is key when listening to someone. Don’t rush the person to answer and wait if someone has paused. It may take them some time to formulate what the want to say or they may find it hard to articulate their feelings. By being patient, you can help to build trust and a compassionate interaction.

Ask how they feel

Finding out how they feel may sound obvious but remember to ask. By encouraging the person to reveal their emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, jealousy or despair, can be very cathartic to the individual. It also helps to give clues about what the person is most troubled about.

No pressure

Don’t pressure the individual if they don’t want help. We often want to try and fix a person’s problems or give them advice, but a person can only be helped if they want to be. Help them think about different options but leave the choice to act or not act up to them. Sometimes just being there and/or helping with practical tasks can be a good source of support.

Check if they know where to get help

If someone has been feeling low for some time, it’s a good idea for them to get some professional support. Either via talking to their GP or getting practical help. It may be useful to ask if they have sought help, or if you can help direct them to someone who can provide it.

Don’t panic!

If you think you’ve said the wrong thing, don’t panic. There isn’t a perfect way to handle a difficult conversation – so don’t be too hard on yourself it the dialogue doesn’t go as you had hoped. If you have shown levels of compassion and support, that would have made a difference.

Look after yourself

Sometimes, hearing someone else’s problems or worries can affect you. So, be sure to set aside some time for yourself too. Focus your mind on the activities that you enjoy and spend time socialising with your friends and loved ones. If you need to, find someone to talk to that you trust.

Peacocks at Pescod Square

Peacocks at Pescod Square stock a black t-shirt with a ‘Be Kind’ slogan. This top is a great addition to any wardrobe; whether for day-to-day wear, a casual day out or teamed with a blazer, smart jeans and heals for a night on the tiles. The slogan is a good reminder to yourself and to others to be kind whenever possible… and it is always possible.

T-shirt: £6

Contacting the Samaritans

The Samaritans are available round the clock, every day of the year. To get in touch, you can call Freephone 116 123, visit: samaritans.org or email jo@samaritans.org.

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