It’s tricky to know what to say to someone struggling.
You know you should reach out, but you don’t want to say the wrong thing. So you let the silence linger and feel rubbish for doing so.
The ALAN method is a tool developed by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) to help get the conversation started, and make us all more comfortable checking in on someone who seems to be having a tough time.
It’s easy to remember and just as easy to do. Learn it, remember it, and have it in your mental back pocket for the next time you’re nervous about bringing up someone’s wellbeing.
Think of it as introducing a pal to a guy called Alan, then tick off each step.
Ask open questions, such as ‘how are you doing?’. Give the person time to open up if they need.
It’s okay to say you’re worried, or that you’re not sure how to start the conversation but you wanted to see if they’re okay.
Asking is the very first step in breaking down that wall and making a connection in someone’s time of need.
Once you’ve asked a question, make sure you actually listen to the answer. Be patient and let them say what they need.
Try to just listen, rather than attempting to solve any problem. Lots of people just need to vent – and even by chipping in with advice you could unintentionally cut them off or dismiss their feelings.
Create a plan of action to get them feeling better.
It’s a good idea to set SMART (another acronym, handy) goals – tasks that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. So rather than a general ‘I want to feel happier’, break that goal down into more manageable chunks; say, calling and booking a doctor’s appointment by this time next week, or planning to meet up again this coming Friday.
Let your friend know what support is out there and arrange a time for you to check back in.
Let them know they’re not in this alone.
Build a support network of friends, family, and professionals (a doctor or a therapist, for example) so that the person struggling knows they have people they can turn to in any situation.
Setting up a support network isn’t just essential for the person struggling, but for you, too. You’re not alone in wanting to help, and having other people on your team will help prevent stress becoming overwhelming.
Remember that if someone seems to be at risk of suicide, it’s best to stay with them and call emergency services.