“How are you?”
These past few weeks when asked how I am, I’ve been struck by how easy it is to fall back on that socially acceptable, “Fine, thanks. How are you?” It’s the polite response, we say here in the US. And, by definition, it’s also the superficial response. Sometimes, it’s the only response we can muster. Sometimes, it’s all that’s expected of us. And sometimes, we need more.
It’s a universal question — How are you? — so I’ll weave a few international translations throughout, just for your traveling pleasure. Still, I feel serious about this topic.
“How are you?”
The question sometimes carries a bit of baggage. It can come across as intrusive, when the last thing you want to tell the person who asked it is the truth. But, in the right setting, at the right time, when asked by someone genuinely interested and received accordingly, this simple question can be the entrée to a moment of human connection vital to our mental health.
There is a mental health crisis in this country at the moment. Suicide rates have been steadily increasing for nearly the past twenty years. And from every source I find, I hear the same tale that too many are suffering in silence. Besides, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month (and September 10 – 16 was Suicide Prevention Week).
How are you?
In sign language, the movement is from the heart, literally. The hands move up, over the heart, and then outward, toward the other.
So there’s heart involved. It’s your heart I’m interested in when I ask “How are you?” Is your heart dancing for joy? I’d like to hear your good news. Is your heart heavy? Is it broken today? You can tell me about that too.
Yes, it takes energy to listen to sad tales. And it takes time. But this is the kind of connection we must strive to make these days, as our world seems to spin off its axis. Besides, do we really want to be so busy that we can’t listen? That we can’t care?
When asked “How are you?” do you rush into “Fine thank you, and you?” If you slowed down and thought about it, what might be closer to the truth? And, if you did give it that extra thought, would you be willing to divulge that truth? There is no right answer, you know. No wrong answer either.
Would you be willing to listen as someone tells you, really, how they are? What a gift that would be.
It’s not just the mentally ill that need us to reach out (and I’m in the camp that uses that term sparingly). The “normally dysfunctional,” like you and I, need it too. We need to reach out to each other. We need to hear “How are you?” from our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends. And they need to hear it from us.
How much thought have you given these three one-syllable words?
How are you?
How about you? What does “how are you” mean to you?
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to a trained counselor in your area, or text 838255 for immediate help.
- Text 741741 when you are feeling really depressed or suicidal, and a crisis worker will text with you. Many people do not like talking on the phone and would be more comfortable texting. It’s a free service run by The Crisis Text Hotline
- For more information on suicide prevention, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s website for more info: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Preventing-Suicide.