Fine. And you?” Breaking Barriers through Daily Conversations
By Juliana Holcomb
Juliana Holcomb is a Junior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA where she studies Psychology and American Sign Language/Deaf Studies. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is currently enjoying her Communications/Marketing internship at the Jordan Porco Foundation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, yoga, going on day trips, and spending time with her family and friends.
Someone once told me they never ask another person “how are you?” while passing them. As this interaction lasts just mere seconds, you cannot receive an honest response. When I first heard this, I thought it was somewhat dramatic. “Hey, how are you?” is viewed as a polite formality used as a greeting and in brief interactions with others. Personally, I know I use this phrase repeatedly every day: when entering my home, on the phone, or buying a coffee, just to name a few instances. However, is it just a formality? What if we began to utilize this three-word question as an indicator of a peer’s mental health? Research has uncovered that one out of ten college-aged students contemplates suicide. This leaves the remaining nine to support the one struggling (https://nineoutoften.org/). By investing in meaningful conversations, we are able to fulfill the Nine out of Ten mission and foster hope among those around us.
Too often, I find myself walking by someone, particularly a peer, saying “how are you?” and receiving the one-worded answer of “fine” in response. This bland word provides no indicator of how someone really is. It is neither a positive nor negative response but rather quite neutral. From personal experience, “fine” was a common response when I was struggling the most. On countless occasions, I was able to hide my true emotions, whether it be sadness, loneliness, or anxiety, along with my present struggles behind this word. By saying “fine” with a forced smile, I knew I would not be questioned any further. This ideology is problematic because when we ask someone how they are doing, key indicators of their mental health can be uncovered within their response. By refusing to be honest with others about my mental health, I built walls around myself, barricading all of the caring people in my life who wanted to help me.
Although it is critical to become familiar with the warning signs of suicide, it is also necessary to be able to identify them in real world situations (https://nineoutoften.org/know-the-signs/) . While some are more difficult to pick up on through communication, others signs can be displayed more clearly. These signs include isolation, trouble in school, depression or anxiety, eating or sleeping issues, change in mood/behavior, or talking about suicide.
Following a “how are you?”, a short response or lack of one at all may be an indicator of loneliness or isolation. If someone replies with serious academic concerns or trouble, this may also be an indicator of their mental well-being. Depression or anxiety can often be noticed in the tone of one’s voice and their mood, especially if it is someone you know well. It is also worth noting if a friend recollects their eating or sleeping issues. While talking about suicide is a serious warning sign, another important, yet less forward, indicator is change in mood or behavior. When we are friends with an individual, we often become accustomed to their usual demeanor and behavior. Therefore, when a change is observed, it is important to recognize this shift in order to help them. Not every conversation will provide this information; however, some warning signs can be evidence even through a simple interaction, especially with someone we know well. Subsequently, it is critical to be educated on the warning signs of suicide as well as how they present themselves in real world interactions.
It is essential to acquire significant correspondence that can lead to uncovering these signs when we converse with someone. This requires more than a quick conversation while in passing. To do this, we need to pursue meaningful dialogue with our peers. This can be accomplished in our dorm building, workplace, classroom, over social media, and whenever we can. When we ask someone, “how are you?”, it is easy to hear a short answer and then focus on our own response when the question is reciprocated. Sometimes, we want to launch into our feelings and experiences without giving adequate time to hear how someone else is doing. By resisting this temptation and investing time as well as empathy into others’ well-being, we can support our peers in an attentive and charismatic way.
If we ask how someone is doing and receive a “fine” or other non-indicative answer, how do we expand the conversation in order to learn more? One way is pursuing further questions which do not have to be intense or invasive. Simple inquiries such as “how was that test?”, “are you stressed?”, or “do you want to have dinner with me tonight?” can touch on numerous signs someone may need help: school troubles, anxiety or depression, isolation for meals, and eating patterns. Additionally, through their tone, inflection, and demeanor whilst conversing, a change in mood or behavior can be seen. As not only friends, but as members of the Nine out of Ten, you and I can assist those around us and guide them to receive the help they deserve.
If a peer or friend is struggling with their mental health, an individual goal can be to be present for them. This presence must be evident and known to the person so repetition and follow-ups are useful. If warning signs of suicide are witnessed, it is imperative to not only continue to be there for that person but also encourage them to go to a counseling center, health services, a religious leader, a parent, or other trustworthy individuals. By having crisis hotlines (such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255/TALK) and other resources readily available, a life-saving response can be provided.
When you pledge to be one of the Nine out of Ten students to help your peers through times where they struggle with their mental health, you are pledging to do much more than sign a paper. By educating yourself and your friends about the warning signs of suicide, you can create a growing awareness of mental health resources within your school community. Together, we can support, help, and adequately respond to our peers, friends, and loved ones who are struggling with their mental health to ultimately provide a powerful sense of hope.
Jordan Porco Foundation. (2011). Retrieved June 2017, from https://www.rememberingjordan.org/
Nine Out of Ten – Help Someone. Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://nineoutoften.org
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.