This new campaign will make you think twice about asking ‘how are you?’

How. Are. You. Three simple words that most of us say multiple times a day to colleagues, friends and partners, without giving them a second thought.

It’s an automatic but well-meaning question, and one that can sometimes start valuable conversation. But a new mental health campaign has drawn attention to the fact that often, asking how someone is just isn’t enough.

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Research released by the mental health anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, reveals that when asked, over three quarters (78%) of us would tell friends and family we are ‘fine’, even if struggling with a mental health problem. When asked why they do this, many said that although people ask them how they are, they probably don’t want really to know the honest answer.

52% of the survey’s 2,000 respondents said that they didn’t want to burden people, while 39% admitted they’d only talk if they were confident their friend or family member really wanted to listen.

In light of the revelations, Time to Change are asking us all to make a simple change, and to ‘ask twice’ if we suspect a friend, family member, or colleague might be struggling with their mental health. The campaign says the simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.

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‘Ask Twice’ is launched as part of Time to Change’s five-year In Your Corner campaign, which encourages us to be more open and supportive of the 1 in 4 people living with a mental health problem each year.

As Jo Loughran, Director of Time to Change, explains: ‘We all hear it dozens of times a day: “How are you?” “Fine thanks, how are you?”‘

‘Our research shows that, as a nation, we find it hard to answer honestly. This could mean someone close to you is struggling with their mental health – they might just be waiting for your cue to talk about it. Asking twice is a simple, effective way to show our friends and family members that we are asking for real; that we are ready to listen, whether that’s now or whenever they’re ready.’

How to support a friend who does open up

  • Take it seriously, don’t judge
  • Actively listen – ask open questions, summarise to show you’ve listened and reflect
  • Remember you don’t have to fix it
  • A simple ‘that sounds difficult’ can show you care