After the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, there’s been so much on social media, in the news, and in conversation about “checking in on” your loved ones. To be honest, my knee jerk reaction to this is, “Yeah, but like . . . what does that even mean?”
As someone who has spent time in the darkest corners of my own mind, I can tell you exactly how the convo of a friend “checking in on me” would go. Ready?
Friend: Hey, Girl! I’ve been thinking about you a ton recently and wanted to call and say hi. How’s it going?
Me: Hiiiiiiiii!! OMG, it’s so great to hear from you! I was just thinking about you too! I’ve been great! [Insert some cute anecdote about my current day-to-day and a mildly self-deprecating story peppered with just enough humor to ensure Friend does not see through veneer.] How have YOU been? Did you end up [insert subject Friend is passionate about, or has been planning, or has recently posted on social media . . . anything to deflect attention off of my deep, dark, uncomfortable inner sorrow.]
At this point, the back-and-forth would go on with me continuing to deflect, setting us both up for failure as I am still feeling depressed and alone and Friend feels like she didn’t accomplish what she’d set out to do.
Because talking about those deep, dark corners of our minds is uncomfortable! The risk of vulnerability is overwhelming. What if they don’t understand? What if they think I’m crazy? What if they call the cops? Or the hospital? Or gossip about me?
Also, the risk of making someone else uncomfortable — someone who obviously cares deeply for you (otherwise they wouldn’t be calling) — can outweigh the value of being heard.
But . . . I am listening, and this is what I am hearing. We need to talk about it. We know we need to talk about it. We just don’t know how to do it.
We want to love the people in our lives, and we want them to know that we are here for them — even the deepest, darkest parts of them. For most of us, however, we have no framework for how to give someone the space to go there.
So, if you’ll allow me, I would love to share a few tips with you for how this conversation could go. You know your peeps, so use what feels right or adapt to what makes the most sense for you and your loved one.
Tips for Checking In on Your People
1. The Intro
Bring up the deaths of Anthony Bourdain and/or Kate Spade. Acknowledging that you are comfortable talking about others’ deep, dark places could create the space for someone to talk about their own.
2. The Observation
There’s a reason you’re reaching out to this person. There’s a part of you that feels like there’s something going on with them. What is it? I encourage you to plan this one statement out before you make this call or grab the cup of coffee because, if well said, it can break open the whole conversation.
Here’s where you can express your completely judgement-free observation. Something like this could work:
“I’ve noticed you have [insert completely judgement-free observation]. Have you been feeling [insert emotion/state of mind]?”
For example, you could say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been responding to the group text recently. Have you been feeling overwhelmed?”
The key here is to focus on a particular behavior rather than your experience of said behavior.
3. The Space
You’ve asked the question, now listen . . . without judgement.
4. The Ask
This is tough because it can be so uncomfortable. But if you’ve made it this far into the convo and still feel like this person might be suicidal, you’ve gotta do this. Here are two possible questions:
- Have you ever considered hurting yourself?
- Have you ever thought about suicide?
5. The Experts
Hey, you! You’ve done great! You’ve helped a friend feel loved and heard and not totally crazy! But guess what . . . you’re not a professional. You can take a deep breath because you’ve gotten this far and because it is not your job to talk your loved one off the literal or figurative cliff. You’re gonna refer this one out. Not because you don’t care. You do it because you don’t have the skills to do this as well as a professional (and it’s not your job . . . I know you love them, but it’s not your job).
If your friend is suicidal — that means anything from feeling like the people in their life would be better off without them (yes, that really qualifies), to having planned out how they might follow through with it, to having made an attempt — refer them to a professional.
Here are two resources you’ve probably also come across on social media recently:
6. The Follow Through
You have done so much. You’re probably emotionally exhausted. Give yourself some time to process, then please reach back out to this person. The worst thing that could happen to them right now is for them to have borne their soul to you and for you to never ask about it again. It’s a lot of pressure, but you’ve got this. And they still need you.
Need some encouragement?
Girl, this is hard! I’m with you. You’ve read this far, so I know you have a heart of gold and want to help the people in your life who are hurting. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to say it perfectly — just saying it is what counts. You’ve got this. You really do.