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Who is actually listening? …..I mean to listen in a way that is helpful, so that you really feel heard?

#ListenFirst campaign

If we really ‘listen’ at a personal and internal level, at a systemic family level, at a friends level within the workplace and schools, and as a government, then we can prevent problems from becoming a mental health issue that require ‘expert’ listeners.   


To increase the confidence of the individual in believing that they are capable of listening in a way that can be effective and preventative.


Learning to listen properly is not just for dealing with mental health issues but to prevent mental health issues and promoting healthy mental health.

If we listen more to ourselves this can enable us to prevent our own mental health problems and enable us to have the capacity to listen to others around us.

We need to take responsibility for our part in listening properly when supporting ourselves and others, as a friend, a family member, a carer, a parent, a teacher, a manager or a policy maker.  

What is #ListenFirst about?

​This campaign is not aimed at encouraging people to deal with mental health issues but to help prevent them.

Mental Health awareness is increasingly in the forefront of our minds now with the increased support from the young royal family. We are all being encouraged to speak out about our problems and to share and talk to others. As a Counselling Psychologist of course I advocate this completely. It can be hugely beneficial to talk; to help relieve yourself of your problems, to help get a better perspective on things, to connect with others, so many reasons.

It can also be really helpful in preventing mental health problems from escalating if a person really feels they have been heard.

But one issue that has become apparent in various areas of my professional and personal life is that whilst it is good to talk




Unfortunately, I have had too many young people coming into my therapy room who, if they had been heard properly, they may not have reached a point where they feel suicide attempts are the only way to get somebody to hear them, to really listen. A lot of the time what they need to be heard is not that bad, but they feel it is. By feeling able to share can help them to normalise their feelings instead of coming to believe there is something wrong with them. As the system currently stands a young person can make a suicide attempt more than once and still not be given any support. They come to believe they have real mental health problems when actually the problem wasn’t theirs, it was that nobody was listening.

So, whilst the campaigns are great, in saying ‘It’s good to talk’ we need to be cautious about this as it can increase mental health problems if nobody is there to listen. For example, with those experiencing the likes of depression, anxiety and loneliness, they don’t want to be a burden, they don’t feel they will be understood properly, or people don’t seem to have time for them, so they withdraw further. Who do they talk too? They feel they have nobody and so they feel more isolated and alone. 

We also hear reports in the news that mental health issues are increasing and that services are unable to meet the needs of those suffering with mental health. However, what this does is take away all personal accountability for the situation and instead rely on and blame the government for not ‘fixing’ the problem.

As a Counselling Psychologist I receive many referrals from parents panicking about their child’s behaviour and wanting me to ‘fix it’ for them. I don’t have a magic wand to do this but what I do have is an expert ear in which to ‘listen’ to the client. I may have more specialist skills than the regular public but these are only needed when issues have become really problematic and complex. If anybody really feels heard properly then they aren’t left to feel that their feelings, and thus they, are a problem.

We do all have our own issues going on and so we may feel we can’t do anything to help, so we keep our distance. But active listening actually makes listening much easier and creates a more affective result for the person trying to be hear.​​​​​​​

We are all capable of listening but we may not believe we are, or we may fear we ‘don’t now what to say’, or we are too absorbed in our phones and work to really listen properly, and so pay for an ‘expert’ to do it for us. Just because people like myself do it as a job does not mean we aren’t all capable of effectively listening. Many times when working in schools teachers would refer children to me because a child had come to them with a problem. Because I was there they didn’t feel it was their place, or they weren’t ‘doing it properly’. Invariably I would support further communication between the pupil and teacher because they are there every day and aware of the playground dynamics.

My belief is that if proper ‘listening’ was being done at a much more immediate and personal level, within the family and friends network, within the schools, within the workplace, then issues that are manageable can be addressed and won’t turn into a mental health problem, therefore reducing the numbers of reaching crisis point only to be turned away. This is not to ignore that in many cases an ‘expert’ listener is what is required and everything else has been done, but in many cases if we just learnt to ‘listen’ more then problems can be solved much quicker and easier.

Who is actually listening? ….

…..I mean to listen in a way that is helpful, so that you really feel heard?

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