Asking if someone is OK is harder, but more important, than ever



Mental health pros weigh in on how to check in

Mental health pros weigh in on how to check in


For most, things haven’t been “OK” since March, but social distancing and a world in disarray can make checking in more challenging. Nevertheless, mental health professionals offer helpful tips on how to mindfully power through.

From the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve all heard, “We will get through this together.” Surely we’ve nodded in agreement to that assessment, a foregone conclusion from the get-go, but of course helpful to repeatedly remind one another. What we’ve all been learning in real time, however, while we scramble to keep our own lives afloat, is exactly how we will get through this together, especially regarding our spouses and kids.

This is an unprecedented time, with new, ever evolving – or changing – rules, and deep uncertainty as a new normal. Yet we want to help. When we suspect a friend, co-worker, fellow parent, or child is troubled, how do we act on impulses to reach out, to help someone through?

As New York Times writer Anna Goldfarb points out, in pre-pandemic times, “when you’re checking in with someone who’s struggling, you’d have your conversation together in a calm, private setting. Phones and devices would be silenced and stashed out of sight. Food and drinks tend to put people at ease, so you’d nosh on snacks or sip a beverage together, too.”

Those circumstances are either impossible or much more difficult to arrange. So Goldfarb very helpfully shares tips from mental health professionals on how to navigate this new terrain, what to look for, and how to proceed; or, in some cases, how not to proceed.

READ MORE: Coping, confidence, and coronavirus

Marriage counselor and family therapist Phoenix Jackson, for instance, advises, “Personal friends, work colleagues, classmates, and family members all require different approaches.” She cites the importance of considering the power dynamics before reaching out and realizing it’s easier for someone to be vulnerable if you’re on “equal footing.”

Child psychologist Jena Lee advises one should check one’s self before reaching out. Are you “in a healthy place” to appropriately handle someone who’s struggling? And if so, says psychologist Uche Ukuku, make sure you give them the opportunity to confirm or deny by simply asking. As opposed to saying something like, “You’re so grumpy,” say, “You seem out of sorts recently, are you OK?”

Other tips include offering confidentiality, asking open-ended questions, revealing your own struggles, or not even asking any questions or being preoccupied to verbally answer when someone opens up.

We’re definitely all in this together, and luckily, as parents, improvising and pivoting is part of the job description.



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