Monday, 25 September 2017

Not talking about depression

There are a number of "just to show someone's always listening" things doing the rounds on Facebook - you know the sort of thing, I'll put the kettle on, my door is always open, you can always talk to me.

As a means of trying to suggest that it's ok to talk about mental health, I suppose it's a good thing.

But the idea that a depressed person could talk to just anyone who has a kettle and a packet of chocolate digestives is ridiculous. I know I certainly couldn't, and I've seen a blog about how talking to an untrained listener could in fact be counter-productive, to the point of dangerous.

Even if you want to help a friend who is depressed, you may not have the appropriate skills. By all means, ask them if there's anything you can do to help - but be prepared for it *not* to be making a cup of tea and lending an ear. Like many people, I suspect, it's taken me years (literally) to talk to a doctor: don't ask me if I want to talk about it to you.

A depressed person may just want to hang out with you, doing normal stuff, forgetting if possible, for a short time at least, that they're depressed. And that's probably the best thing for them.


  1. What would your view be on a service like Samaritans, who aren't mental health experts, nor (as a recent viral post suggested) are they "crisis counsellors", but they are trained listeners. They don't give advice ( something someone with a kettle might well do), but they do try to help people explore difficult and distressing feelings.

    1. Doctors give out the Samaritans' telephone number for out-of-hours crises, so that suggests to me that they are viewed as helpful. At least you know they are listening, not wondering about what time the post will come or whether it would be rude to throw the depressed person out. I think also the anonymity of the listener probably helps - a bit like trolls on the internet, you can say anything and you won't have to face them and any repercussions the following day/week. And they won't tell the rest of your friends...

    2. Yes, the anonymity is very important - also the ability to walk away from it at the end of a shift. My wife and I got involved in supporting a close friend (I had been best man at their wedding) who was suicidally depresssed. To be honest, it rather took over our lives, and we were frantic with worry about her.

    3. The lack of anonymity is a bit problem for the prisons "listener" service. The "listeners" are all inmates, and are trained by Samaritans in listening skills. However, unfortunately if a fellow inmate is suicidal, you're kind of stuck with it and this could place an enormous burden and time demands on the listener (spoke once to an ex-listener who highlighed this problem).

    4. Re the prison service - awkward. Off the top of my head, the only way I can see round it is to have a dedicated phone line that *only* goes to the local Samaritans, and it probably wouldn't take long for someone to hack the dedication.

    5. There IS a dedicated phone from most prisons to the Samaritans - though it doesn't necessarily go to the local branch - we have a routing platform that means calls can go anywhere. The Listener service is very important, but one has to say the dedication and burden placed on inmate listeners is far greater than on ordinary Samaritans volunteers. But they receive pretty much the same training.

    6. Good to know - I imagine that a prison population has great need of it.