Wednesday 28 September 2016

Working it out: Forget Hi and Howya. Try H.e.l.l.o.

John Masterson

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

I recently had the good fortune to have a chat with two women from the Carlow Mental Health Association. They had come up with a very good idea which is simple and, I suspect, works. They are conscious that there is a lot of depression around, and that many people feel isolated. Their solution? Say Hello. But their 'Hello' has a little more to it. It is not the perfunctory Howya to which we all reply 'fine', even if we are not. Their Hello goes like this.

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It begins with the H. When you say hello, say it like you mean to have a conversation, however short. Ask some question that does not have a yes or no answer. Make it look like you have a little time and are not in a rush.

The E stands for Engage with the person. Be friendly. Make some eye contact. Already, I am aware of how rarely I do this in my normal everyday 'how are you' encounters.

L is for listen, and here, I am really guilty, as I suspect you are too. This doesn't mean that you have to solve the person's life problems. It just means listen, and be non-judgemental. Easier said than done, but it may make the world of a difference to the person you are chatting with. Or nearly chatting with.

The second L is harder again. Learn something about the person. Treat them as if they really matter. It may well be that there is something going on in their life that you can help them with. Or it may be enough that you spend the few minutes listening and remember it the next time you meet them.

Finally, there is the O. O is for Ongoing Support. That is checking in on them now and again to see how they are. This doesn't have to be any big deal. It is just friendly and caring communication and the sort of thing that people in communities should do for each other.

So I tried the 'Hello' game with each of them and they with me, as we all had a few minutes to spare. None of us had any earth-shattering problems. But we all found that we interacted in a slightly more human way. If I bumped into either of them in the street we would probably stop for a five-minute chat rather than just nod quickly and move on.

For me, that is a small addition to my life - which is thankfully in a reasonably good and happy place. But it did bring home to me how important that seemingly little bit of human contact might be to someone less fortunate. For so many people, their social lives are shrinking. They may not be working, and work is hugely important for social interaction. Loved ones may have emigrated. Relatives may have died. And gradually what was once a community rich in humanity has withered.

So next time you say Hello remember that it has five letters. You can find out more on www.carlowmentalhealth.ie

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