Take a Minute to Reach Out

Take a Minute to Reach Out

Researchers have found we appreciate when acquaintances touch base far more than expected. Brief, simple messages to someone with bipolar can be a mood-booster.

The Importance of Support

New research shows that we have no idea how much it means when we reach out casually—even by text—to someone we care about.

The science of happiness (yes, that’s a thing) has documented that humans thrive through social connections. No wonder that touching base with an acquaintance may be appreciated way more than we expect, according to a study published online ahead of print in July by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While such gestures may seem insignificant to the person typing out a quick text or dropping by via social media, they can be a particular boon to those in a depressive episode.

“For many people with bipolar disorder, there’s value in brief but frequent interactions over less frequent, more in-depth conversations,” says Joseph Cerimele, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.

Keeping Communication Simple

The content of such howdy-dos can be as simple as “How’s your day going?” or a remark following up on a previous topic of conversation, Cerimele says.

Asking a question may make the recipient feel burdened to answer. Saying something about yourself or commenting on a neutral topic, such as current events, conveys the message that the other person is on your mind with no strings attached.

Your quick contact may do more than boost the mood of someone grappling with bipolar depression. Keeping in touch may be a step toward getting together—especially important for those who are self-isolating.

For friends and family, brief interactions via email, text, or social media allow the chance to check in more frequently without feeling like they’re overstepping.

Social media exchanges can be better than phone calls because they don’t have to happen in real time, notes Stephen M. Strakowski, MD, associate vice president for regional mental health and a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School.

The chance to respond on a personal timetable takes some pressure off.

Opening Up about Mental Health

The ultimate goal is to let people know you care—and get them talking.

In findings released in 2019 by consulting firm Nonfiction Research, 83 percent of Americans say it’s easier to open up if someone else goes first. Thus campaigns like #LightenTheLoad and Okay to Say, which aim to encourage open communication about mental health.

#LightenThe Load, a youth-oriented initiative from the company JanSport (of backpack fame), summarizes its approach in the slogan “We’re stronger when we share.” (Another good tag, from the JanSport Nigeria Facebook page: “If you’re not sharing it, you’re carrying it.”)

Okay to Say provides GIF sticky notes on its website (okaytosay.org) that say things like “Here for you” and “Just checking in” as a means to get a conversation going.

Okay to Say was developed by Texas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. The organization worked with an outside firm on a survey to find out what helped people feel successful in their mental health journey. Three-quarters of participants reported “it was their close friends or family who stuck with them that got them to the finish line,” says Coby Chase, the organization’s chief communications officer.

Chase’s advice for sticking with someone you care about: “Stay connected. There will be ups and downs. It’s not, ‘Take some Advil’ and it’s over. The most important thing is, don’t ever let them forget you’re there for them.”

That reminder can take just a minute. Plus, a casual check-in means there’s no need to overthink.

“It’s about continuing discussions,” says Cerimele. “There is not always a need to come up with something novel.”

Printed as “The Pulse: Take a Minute,” Fall 2022
Originally posted September 12, 2022

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