National Conversation Week 2023 is all about the importance of face-to-face conversation. We are highlighting it because so many of the men and women we see feel that no-one wants to talk to them let alone listen.
They often have appointments and assessments via the telephone or speak to people who are in front of a computer screen. While sometimes that set-up can’t be helped, National Conversation Week is reminding us all to put our phones away, make eye contact and engage with those around us.
This year, the focus is on the curious side of conversation that helps us gain an understanding of the people around us – asking questions.
At CENS we have to ask lots of questions before people refer in. This is to check that we’re the right place for them. Often, new referrals have had to answer the same questions a number of times if they’ve approached different agencies before trying us. We find this can be very challenging for them as they’re personal questions being asked by complete strangers.
How to ask
One way we manage this is by being Mental Health First Aiders. Through our training, we try to be non-judgemental, empathic and actively listen. That way people feel they can be honest and get the right support. A kind and caring tone of voice can go a long way in order to help people relax and know that we are on their side.
As a team, we regularly discuss each resident together. This is to ensure that if anyone notices a dip in a resident’s mood, the whole team are aware that they may need some extra support. Asking a simple, ‘how are you?’ can ensure they not isolating.
Staff also have regular one-to-one catch ups with each resident. Ensuring that not only are they progressing with finding more permanent places to live, but also how they’re feeling. By sensitively checking in it gives them a chance to self-reflect and facilitates problem-solving.
The best medicine
Often, having light-hearted conversations can be as important as those deep and meaningfuls. One resident said to a member of staff recently, ‘I just want to be treated as normal. Not pitied, not thought of as a screw-up. I want to have a laugh and enjoy life.’