MHAM:Guest Writer- Leigh Hershkovich-Ioffe “Listen; You May Even Save a Life”

Listening, we all have the ability to do it. We all do it. Whether it is listening to the tv, listening to a friend on the phone, listening to a podcast, listening has been an integral part of everyday life. Did you know that listening is one of our greatest superpowers? Yes, superpower. When listening with good intentions, you have the ability to save a life. 

Our latest article is by Leigh Hershkovich-Ioffe as she explores the difference between listening and “listening.” What does this mean? Read the article and find out! 

 Do you have thoughts to share regarding mental health? If so, please email socialandrelevant@gmail.com for your chance to be featured on the blog during the month of May for Mental Health Awareness Month. 

As always, sending good vibes and positivity your way. 

~Emily~ 

*Disclaimer, topics surrounding suicide are discussed in the following article. Please read at your discretion. If you or someone you know are feeling suicidal or are having feelings of self-harm do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741741.*

Listening; You May Even Save a Life

Leigh Hershkovich-Ioffe

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed.”

-Parker Palmer

Our world has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a mere matter of weeks, an invisible virus has plagued the world, leaving destruction in its path.

One thing that the pandemic has offered us is a chance to look within, to seek our truths and understand the roles we play in the larger context of society. It has also given many of us a chance to listen—to ourselves, and to the people we love—in ways that we may have been too busy to do before. 

I am not talking about the ‘listening’ we have all become accustomed to: autobiographical listening, where we half-listen to a person while we prepare our response, rebuttals, or comebacks.

I am talking about empathetic listening. The hard stuff. Listening is a skill that requires attention and patience. It asks us to leave our judgements at the door, get comfortable with the uncomfortable, and hold space for other people without jumping with solutions, conclusions, or easy-fixes. Empathetic listening is one of the most important skills we can cultivate. It can even save lives.

According to the CDC, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. Death by suicide is the pandemic that was silently sweeping the world for years. And it is getting worse. It is a topic, like many mental health issues, that is shrouded in shame. It is difficult to talk about, and it is difficult to listen to people who are struggling. There is a misconception that talking about suicide will only fan the flame, but the opposite is true. When we do not talk about it, it is like adding gasoline to the fire. It will continue ravaging everything in its path. It is only by addressing and talking about this issue that we put the fire out. 

For the past six years, I have had an in-depth look into the prevalence of suicide among teens and young adults. I am a suicide prevention educator, author, and mental health advocate. I have personally helped dozens of teens struggling with thoughts of suicide, as well as instructed their families and caregivers in the techniques leading to a safe environment and the search for proper mental health care. Each experience, though unique in its own right, has reaffirmed the importance of listening and its role in saving a life.

We cannot make it through the world without experiencing heartbreak, disappointment, rejection, and loss. Imagine that you are struggling with an immense loss that clouds your vision. You eat, breathe, sleep this loss. You develop a sense of tunnel vision, where all you can see or feel is the pain you are in. 

When you are in that much pain, the last thing you need—or can even handle listening to—is advice, judgement, or a silver-lining. You want to be heard, you want to be understood, you want to know that you are safe. 

We all crave this kind of connection.

This is especially true for someone struggling with thoughts of suicide.

This is a universal truth that speaks to the time we are currently in. We all want to be heard. When we listen with empathy, we provide the speaker an opportunity to make sense of the world that exists in their own head. 

The tools of empathetic listening—suspended judgement, present body language, eye contact, patience— show and tell the speaker that you are with them. With kindness, we provide the speaker a platform to be heard—perhaps for the first time in their lives. 

Doesn’t this sound like the way all of us want to communicate? How much more so for someone whose life is on the line?

At its heart, suicide prevention education is about sharpening the tools that make us better members of the world. It is education that reminds us to be more open-hearted, empathetic, communicative, and vulnerable.

 Listening is the heart of the heart. 

These are the skills that make the world a better place. 

These are the skills that can save a life.

 1 Suicide Statistics and Facts

Featured image by artist, Lolly Dakar.

Leigh Hershkovich-Ioffe is a writer and suicide prevention educator.  She is the author of Shattered Illusions, and a safeTALK suicide awareness trainer. To date, Leigh has trained over 500 people in methods of suicide prevention. Leigh’s new free evidence based suicide prevention workshop, If You See Something, Say Something, is now being offered as an online workshop. For more information on Leigh’s work, or to participate in a suicide prevention workshop, please visit http://www.gesherproject.com

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