No, really, how are you? Tell me, I’m interested. I wouldn’t ask otherwise.
Answering this simple question honestly will go a long way towards normalising mental health – good, bad and ‘meh’ – in Ireland. This was the message at a recent public meeting held by Amnesty International and addressed by the award-winning writer, Colm Tóibín and Dr Siobhán Barry of the College of Psychiatry, Ireland and Caroline McGuigan who set up SOS (Suicide or Survive). Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, chaired the discussion.
Can you imagine having the freedom – nay, the permission – to answer ‘How are you?’ honestly? Imagine if you weren’t expected to respond with ‘grand’, ‘not a bother’, ‘fine’, ‘great’ ,‘draggin’ the divil by the tail, thank God’ or some such positive response?
Imagine a world where it was okay to say ‘not great’, ‘I’m having a hard time,’ or ‘I’m not really coping’ ? Imagine yourself having a hard day – for whatever reason – and being asked by someone in the supermarket how you are. Now imagine yourself saying ‘If I hadn’t had to get the kids to school I don’t think I’d have bothered to get out of bed today’ or ‘Today’s hard.’ No, go on, close your eyes and imagine it. Would the earth shake and crumble? Probably not. Would you be struck dead on the spot? Probably not. Would the other person be embarrassed? Possibly. But so what? Whose problem is that – yours or theirs?
If we all did this – if we all engaged honestly with each other – can you imagine the change that would come about? People who weren’t sure they could cope with the answer wouldn’t ask ‘How are you?’ and people who really care wouldn’t take ‘fine’ for an answer. Unless they really believed it.
Try it. Just for today, answer ‘How are you?’ honestly every time you hear it. Notice how people react. Notice how you react. Then do it again tomorrow. I’d be interested to know how you get on.