Gina Cicatelli Ciagne, CLC
We have been reminded, most recently by the Duchess of Sussex, that asking “Are you ok?” can make a huge difference to someone who is not ok whether from depression, anxiety, or whatever ails them. While the question is so important, the way the answer is received is just as critical. You may not be able to relate to their suffering. You may not feel as though their problem is worth the attention being put on it. Remember that neither the question nor the answer has to do with you. It has everything to do with whom you are asking. So, when you ask “Are you ok?” give the person the time and space to answer and with as much authenticity as they wish. It can be the difference between someone hanging on or someone letting go.
Questions are often asked as a matter of protocol, a nicety. The “how are you?” is typically meant to be a passing comment rather than a real question. Asking someone who is “not ok” if they are and then brushing aside their answer can literally mean the difference between life and death.
When you ask a question such as “Are you ok?” be prepared to listen and hear the answer. It may not always be neat and tidy. It may be an answer that makes you uncomfortable. You may not know best to respond to their truth. The person who gives you the raw answer of “I’m not actually doing ok”,” I’m having a really difficult time,” or “I am thinking about hurting myself,” is letting you in and has, perhaps temporarily, lifted a veil into their world of pain that few others may know about. You may be the only one they have confided in. Brushing them off, thinking they are bluffing, or following up with a “hang in there” or “snap out of it” can cause a further deep dive into themselves and their desolation.
If you don’t know how to help, find someone to whom they can confide in to get the help they need. Do not force them into a solution that suits you or is convenient for you. A simple “I hear you” can make a big difference. However, your receiving their truth and giving them the space them to safely confide in you does not give you power over their feelings or the best solution. As the one who has had her answer unheard and rebuffed and knowing how much more isolating that can be, when I now ask someone “Are you ok?” I stop and really listen to their answer. I know the power of privilege someone is entrusting me with by sharing their real answer. Just because the response may not be what you are prepared for or one that you can personally relate to, be open to their answer. You may be the one and only person they are allowing themselves to trust with the truth. The answer and how it is received is as important as the question.