The "Hi, How are you?" Story

A Silent Epidemic

"Let's talk" is a simple message but it can sometimes be difficult to start the conversation and to find the words that best describe those muddled feelings. The aim of Chatty Cards is to help find those words with the aid of the "Hi, How are you?" written cards, to use a football analogy, "Let's start the ball rolling".

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds1 and depression one of the main causes of ill health and disability worldwide2.

Put too simply we hope that this simple thing our Chatty Cards might help stop just one person.

I have known people who have committed suicide, both colleagues, friends and family.

I have also seen people pushed to the very edge where suicide seemed a viable or possibly the only solution to their problem. Sometimes I have not seen it.

Now I am not a super chatty person. Ironic I know.

And I am not a super comfortable person in big crowds or very noisy environments. The little one that lives with me isn’t either. And in these circumstances I tend to withdraw into myself and want to leave unless I am the host and I am forced to stay.

I help run a women’s group and so sometimes as a named officer that stops being an option. But I tell you it’s lovely when someone turns to me and says “Hi how are you?”

And I can take a moment and do a check in with myself and answer authentically or I can be English and polite and answer with the standard “fine” Sometimes it is about the response and sometimes it is about being noticed and being asked even if you don’t feel like divulging how you are with that person.

The very uttering of the question shows the recipient that they are not invisible.

The questioning of myself when I am performing a self check in and ask Hey C how are you today?

Sometimes I ask myself several times a day how are you? And the answer can change each time. And yet sometimes the answer is the same for days at a time.

I will tell you a short story. Please indulge me.

One Friday 23rd I went to find my friend whom I felt I could show my true self to as I had been under a lot of stress but she was not available and I didn’t want to call someone as a phone call was no what I needed. And I wished I had my Chatty Cards at that moment. So garnering all my courage I asked a colleague of three years. "Can I have a hug" and in that moment I was sure Chatty Cards was a good idea despite the critics and sceptics.

[Some people just can’t be happy for you. Sad but true. Yes, I have friends who are super argumentative when you present a new idea to them. They are overly challenging and poo poo your idea and make you almost feel as if you should not be challenging the status quo and wanting to move forward and make a change for better or worse in your life. These people I have come to realise believe it's okay that nothing ever changes by staying still as they like you stay still.]

So where do I see Chatty Cards being used? Out in the real world is my primary answer. But more whenever you need to try to have an open conversation with someone familiar or not.

With colleagues who you notice are not quite themselves. With neighbours who don’t seem as physically well as they might. With kids who you often get no more than a grunt from. With partners ho come home so exhausted they just zone out when they get home.

Personally, I see medical practitioners using them with new/shy/quiet patients. Sometimes it takes 1-3 sessions before your practitioner gets anywhere close to the problem that you brought you in.

I see midwives using them with their expectant mothers.

I see coaches and counsellors using them with their clients

Doctors using them with patients.

And teachers using them with pupils. And youth workers using them with their Children and Young People clients who come to after-school clubs.

In fact, if I am honest I see them in mental health first aid kits.

I see people experiencing dementia using them as they may be lost for struggling to find the word.

I see people who don’t like to utter ugly words out loud. Expressing how they feel.

I imagine social workers using them with parents and children to ask them each how they feel but neither side feeling they can’t express how they feel as they can each select their response and not share it with the other person so there is no distraction.

I see colleagues seeing someone who is clearly in distress sliding a pack across a desk and waiting to see if they get a response.

I see people who have had strokes using them to communicate how they feel.

My story

Once upon a time, a very ugly bad thing happened to me and I needed to go for counselling. For quite some time actually, my counsellor who was excellent was lovely but I felt bad still. I really liked and respected her and I didn’t want to come and see her weekly and bring her down and utter the negative ugly vile words of how I felt and why. So I held them in. I didn’t share them with her and I didn’t share them with my family and I didn’t share them with the people whom I shared accommodation with. I just in effect stopped talking and when I tried to express how I felt people told me yes yes I know how you feel and then they proceeded to tell me how they thought I was feeling.

I think I didn’t want to hurt my family by telling them how I felt and I was ashamed and slightly afraid by how badly I felt and I felt too tired to fight with those who were telling me how they thought I was feeling. I quite literally felt as if my throat was constricted.

So I talked around the subject of how I felt but I didn’t say how I felt.

The one thing I felt even more was that I had no one to communicate with. But I was super lucky because I had two friends who called me pretty much every week and they checked in with me. And sometimes I barely said anything on the phone and sometimes I just talked and talked. And if there were long silences it was okay and neither of us felt we had to fill them because we were all being our authentic selves.

And one day I thought how great it would be if I had a card I could just give it to people to say in a passive/quiet way. This is how I feel today. Or how nice if I could just pick my card for that day and know today this is how I felt when I woke up or when I went to bed because we can almost always be honest with ourselves.

I think Chatty Cards just help you start the conversation. How am I feeling? And from that comes the questions how long have I felt like this? DO I feel like this every day or just today? When have I felt like this before? When have I not? What tends to happen before I feel like this? What tends to help? What makes this better or worse?

Weirdly from the point I was able to admit how I was feeling I think I began my journey of change and recovery. I suspect I could have gotten better so much faster if I had been able to communicate more effectively.

Okay there it is in black and white.

I think I have always found it easier to express how I felt in writing than verbally. But I am a good listener and I regularly check in with people when I think their tone sounds wrong. As I do with myself.

I should warn you now if you meet me I might not even make eye contact with you for a while whilst I listen to you speak because when the misinformation of body language is removed we get to understand others so much better and see their authentic self.

  1. World Health Organization Statistics 2014
  2. WHO 2018 "Depression: let’s talk," says WHO, as depression tops the list of causes of ill health