Heavy conversations

Two people holding ceramic mugs.

What happens when the answer to “How are you?” is not something you’ve anticipated? 

They’ve gone off script and confessed how they’re actually feeling – hopefully it’s positive, but maybe it’s not. There’s always a probability that it’ll be a response unmasked by the standard, “I’m doing good, thank you!”. 

What do you do then? 

For starters, don’t freeze and disregard the other’s response and butt your way into a different topic of conversation. Imagine for a moment what it feels like to be in the other person’s shoes. It’s terrifying enough opening up to someone and telling them that you’re not doing great, but it’s even worse to do that and then have the other person completely ignore your confessions. 

It's especially terrifying to open up when a lot of us have been conditioned to keep these things hidden in the depths of our hearts and minds, and never to be worn on our sleeves because we’ve been taught that if you’re feeling anything but positive, there’s something wrong with you (which is so not true!). I know you know just how much courage it takes to be honest about one’s emotional and mental wellbeing. 

I also like to ask if they simply want me to listen or if they want me to give my opinion on the matter too because I know how annoying it can be receiving unsolicited advice from others, so I try to avoid it as best as I could.  

But sometimes your friend might only wish to express how they feel but don’t actually intend to tell you more about what’s been bothering them. I think it’s only natural to follow up their “I’m not doing good” with a “Why?” because you might be genuinely concerned, or you might just be curious, but if they don’t want to speak any more about it, then it’s only right to leave it at that. 

Pressing them further to speak might just make them feel even more uncomfortable and anxious, inviting them to raise their guards back up. It could also just be that they’re not in the mood to delve deeper. Remember, it already took them a lot of courage to tell you how they feel, so their boundaries should be respected. 

I always like to assure the other person that they can take their time and that I’ll be here to listen if/when they’re ready to open up. They might not ever do that, but for me, it’s a great comfort knowing there’s someone out there who would be willing to listen without judgements. 

Likewise, if you don’t feel like you’re in the right headspace to engage in heavy conversations, tell them so. It’s ok to respect your own boundaries too. Maybe offer them another time to talk about it or if it seems serious, direct them to a professional who would be better equipped to help. 

There’s a lot that could be done to make conversations around mental health and wellbeing more comfortable and fulfilling for both sides. I think being a kind listener is a good start but being honest about your capacity to listen is also just as important. 

Check out Wellbeing Hub's Relationships and Mental Health page for more information!

R U OK? Day is on September 14th, there will be resources available across campuses and online to help you find creative ways to ask others if they are OK. 

If you or a friend are feeling suicidal please contact Mental Health Triage on 13 14 65 in South Australia or go to your nearest hospital emergency department. 


Tagged in What messes with your head, mental health, mental wellbeing, RUOK Day, emotions, relationships