Talking Things Through – Part 3 – Sensitivity

Welcome back!  In last week’s post, we looked at how you can use positive phrasing and encouragement to help someone going through depression or anxiety.  Today we’re going to look at the importance of being sensitive.  Now, this may seem a little obvious on the surface but delve a little deeper with me and see why I believe it is one of the most important ones.  Here we go!

Being Sensitive?

Being sensitive towards someone is crucial.  If anything, it underpins both talking and listening to that person in a big way.  Why?  As I said in my last post: there is a time and a place for everything.  I know, it’s becoming one of my mottoes but there really is.  At the wrong time or in the wrong place, both trying to talk or listen to someone can exasperate their situation.  Why?  Let’s look…

From the perspective of both a depression sufferer and an anxiety sufferer, there is one major reason that sticks out for me: it can exacerbate the situation.  At the wrong time, a well-meaning question can actually trip things into a deeper spiral.  You probably don’t mean it that way but, unfortunately, it’s a distinct possibility.  It’s happened to me more than once.

An Example

Imagine for a moment that I’m sitting with a group of friends in the coffee shop and I’m really really quiet.  You can tell that something isn’t completely OK so you ask the nice and easy question of “Are you OK?”  A nice, innocent question but here are just some of the thoughts going through my head when someone asks that question:

  • Someone noticed, my mask is slipping!
  • Everyone is watching me now!
  • I’m not OK but I don’t want everyone knowing!
  • I’m not OK but now I’m more aware of my problem, especially now you know…

Just four simple thoughts that run through my mind if someone asks me whether or not I’m OK in the middle of a public situation.  Believe me, that isn’t an exhaustive list and there are plenty more.  Let’s move on from that, however, and just tap into time and place for a second.


As I’ve already touched on, picking the right place can be important.  In general, publicising things is not the way forwards.  Whether you’re visiting the shops or at a family meal or simply grabbing coffee with some friends, asking someone if they’re alright when they’re quiet is not the way to go.

Generally avoid public places or, if there is no avoiding it, ask as a very quiet question, ideally in a one-to-one setting.  This avoids feelings of awkwardness and potential panic by eliminating the crowd aspect of the problem.  It also gives you that reassurance as to whether or not they are coping.

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While I haven’t mentioned this much, the wrong time can be almost as bad as the wrong place.  In the wrong time, choosing to listen or to talk can sometimes have the opposite effect intended.  I shall cite another example from my own experiences in a moment but let me give you a few scenarios first.

If someone is in a depressive spiral or a particularly low place, don’t take the opportunity to try and untap things like why they self-harm.  I know, sounds a little obvious but you would be surprised how many people have tried this with me!  Alternatively, if they are wanting to try and tell you a bit about their condition, avoid talking about your experiences instead of listening to them.  Again, a touch obvious but it has had its day with me too.  Let’s look at an example, though.

I was caught in a particularly depressive spiral a few weeks ago.  In the low place that I’d reached, nothing I put into place was catching me and I was on the verge of turning back to self-harm.  I made a couple of phone calls in an attempt to get myself out of it but they didn’t amount to much.  I then messaged a friend.  Now, that friend could have easily started offering advice surrounding coping mechanisms, alternatives to try and so on.  Instead, she listened when I told her exactly how I felt and then proceeded to probe to get me to tell her what I’d done the day before.  By combining listening and talking in that perfect blend, she gave me the boost I needed to get myself out of that pit.

In short: she saved me from having more scars that night.

Ways Forward

It sounds fairly simple, right?  Yet quite complicated at the same time?  Unfortunately there is no five-point plan, no easy solution, no tried and tested way of succeeding at this.  It takes a lot of hard work sometimes as it’s highly dependable on how well you know the person involved.  That being said, I have a few suggestions that you might be able to make use of.

  • Talk Things Through – as mentioned in last week’s post, talk to them about it.  Take the time to learn a little more about their condition, what makes them tick, what they find helps them and then harness that in your approach.  I know I keep saying it but I shall say it again: everyone’s situation is different, so tailor your approach accordingly.
  • Avoid Making It Public – regardless of whether the person involved is an introvert or extrovert, avoid making their situation a public scenario.  If you’re sat at the coffee shop with friends, perhaps try sending them a text before you ask them out loud.  It’s something my friend and I do frequently so as not to draw everyone’s attention to the problem.
  • Establish a Code Word – it might sound a little silly but it works.  I use it with my mum nowadays and it works.  She finds it quite hard not to ask if I’m OK when everyone is at the dinner table so we came up with a code word for it.  If I say that I’m OK then it means exactly that.  If I say I’m daydreaming, however, it means I’m not OK but I’m coping with it.  It’s simple yet effective.
Next Week

Stay tuned for next week’s post concerning Moderation. We’ll look a little bit about when to take no for the answer, how hard to press and some of the reasons why you might not get the real answer.  If you haven’t already, check out my journey or some of our facts pages or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.  We’d really love to hear from you!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

Author: Alex Davies

Alex Davies is the creator and writer for Pushing Back the Shadows. Find out more about his journey here and connect with him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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