Our research: How can others help someone whose mood is low?

A rather long post today but an incredibly important one.

This past Sunday and Monday I asked if you’d contribute your voice to a survey. This was a follow-up to another recent post when I sought ideas for ways that other people might help you if you’re feeling low.


A magnificent total of 228 readers completed the questionnaire, for which a huge thank you. The members of our Moodnudges community never cease to amaze me.

How was the questionnaire generated? I amalgamated the suggestions that were made by readers, then turned them into the form of a questionnaire whose possible answers for each potential way of helping were: Definitely important; Somewhat important; Neutral; Somewhat DON’t want; Definitely DON’T want.

So, what did we learn?

Well, for a start, here are the top ten most preferred ways for someone to help when your mood is low:

  1. Listen to me without judging me.
  2. Reassure me that I’m loved.
  3. Accept me warts and all, no matter what.
  4. Allow me to be honest about my mood without trying to “fix it” for me.
  5. Cuddle/hug me, if you’re someone I love.
  6. Have conversations with me which aren’t 100% heavy – perhaps even make me laugh.
  7. Be fine with me crying if/when I need to.
  8. Listen to me without offering lots of advice.
  9. Be comfortable sharing silence at times.
  10. Give me space and peace to just “be”.

These make sense to me, but an observation I find fascinating is that while there was broad agreement about some ways of helping (“Listen to me without judging me”, for instance), others showed considerable divergence.

For example, in response to the suggestion “Reassure me that I’m doing great even if I’m maybe not”, just look at the percentages for each of the five answers:

21.8% Definitely important.
29.3% Somewhat important.
24.0% Neutral.
17.8% Somewhat DON’T want.
7.1% Definitely DON’T want.

Wow. Quite a few people do want others to boost them in this way, but a sizeable proportion clearly don’t.

Here then are the top ten most polarised ways for someone to help. (Some can’t abide them, while others can’t do without them). The most polarised are at the top of the list:

  1. Reassure me that I’m doing great even if I’m maybe not.
  2. Be ‘pushy’ enough with me to get me to interact socially.
  3. Help make plans for me, understanding that I won’t be good at that myself.
  4. Phone me for a chat that’s just light and cheery.
  5. Reassure me that my low mood is temporary and that it will pass.
  6. Help me with my chores.
  7. Thoughtfully encourage me to get some gentle exercise.
  8. Kindly encourage me to get up and shower.
  9. Relentlessly keep being there for me, no matter how I am around them.
  10. Ask me to do something to help them.

One clear conclusion from this research is that people are pretty certain to have their own individual favoured ways of being supported when their mood is low. It’s really not a case of one size fits all. This is an exciting finding – potentially of enormous value when it comes to encouraging people to support one another.

Right now, I think there are a couple of next steps for us:

(a) We should run another questionnaire to gather input on the things that DON’T help when you’re down, even though some supposedly helpful ideas in this first list are clearly already not want some want.

(b) Having done that, we need to produce some kind of ‘tick-box’ document which anyone can complete and give to potential helpers. It will provide a way to tell helpful people (friends and family, say) “Here’s how to help me, and here’s what to avoid doing at all costs”.

One last thought. I’m aware we have a fantastic variety of brilliant experts among our readership. All manner of skills are represented.

So (a big ask) if you, or someone you know is a whizzkid with data and would like to help us by taking a look at the anonymised raw findings of this research, please get in touch. I’ll happily share the numbers. I suspect they contain real gold, which needs mining.

9 thoughts on “Our research: How can others help someone whose mood is low?

  1. Thank you Jon for compiling these – very thoughtful of you to initiate this survey.

    I know a few commands in data analysis packages – can’t promise I’ll find anything interesting, but raw datasets are always fun to play with.

    1. Wow, thanks Jessica! I will definitely take you up on your kind offer, so will contact you direct.

    1. Thanks Karen, it’s fascinating data – and there will be more findings to come, I’m sure.

  2. What a task you have managed to do and yes your research is very valuable to helpers and the supported who need help. What a compassionate loving kind and generous of time given to this quite complex process thank you hope you find your data wizard . There is much gold to be outlined and datafied my own word. A very important survey.

    1. I like datafied Kathleen. I’m a great believer in creating your own word whenever necessary. Thanks for your kind support for the work so far on the data. I’m sure there’s more to come.

  3. Dear Jon,
    I found this very interesting peace of work in my holiday time and decided to offer you support for some data mining. I’m just doing a bit of learning in this field and your data might be a great opportunity to get some practice. I have a fair statistics background from my University past. I’d be happy to support.

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