The annual Bell Let’s Talk Day takes place on Jan. 31, 2018.
While talking is great, I believe that we must also teach society how to respond to people struggling with mental health issues.
Before the age of 25 professionals had already peppered me with various diagnoses, and I felt defined by these labels. I spent every waking hour displaying a bright smile for the world to see as an internal battle raged on. However, like stuffing a bag full of clothes I could only stuff so much within, and eventually my true emotions needed to see the light of day.
After spending years suffering in silence I finally decided to take an incredible risk and put a voice to my pain.
I approached one of my room mates and began to share a glimpse of what was really going on in my life.
Immediately, his discomfort became evident. I continued to speak as his eyes became fixated on the floor and his hands began to fidget.
It was not long before he extended his right arm, placed it on my left shoulder, and said, “You are a good guy Al. I am sure you will figure it out.”
And with that he bolted from my sight.
I was left standing in the hallway.
Beating myself up for allowing myself to be so vulnerable.
Looking back at that point in time I have asked myself, “What exactly did I expect him to do for me in that moment?”
I reached a simple conclusion.
I just needed him to listen.
I did not want to be fixed. I just wanted to be heard.
Sometimes when people share their challenges with us we can feel as though it is our duty to fix them.
If you find yourself in this situation just remind yourself that the greatest gift you can provide someone is your ears.
After a stressful day have you ever called up a good friend, or sat down with a trusted partner? You talk for 10 minutes straight, and the other person says nothing, just listens. When you are done talking you sit back, and think “Wow. I feel better!”
Because you got the darkness out.
Darkness simply cannot survive in the light.
Giving people an opportunity to be free from their darkness can be the greatest gift we can ever give someone.
In the context of mental health, after listening it is highly beneficial to be aware of local resources where they can go for assistance. If they are willing to act on the resources, you must now decide what extent you are willing to support them on their journey. Perhaps this looks like accompanying them to their first appointment, or maybe it means supporting them from a distance.
If they are not willing to act on the resources, respect their choice.
We cannot force someone into action. At this point it is important to periodically check in, and remind them that you would be happy to listen if they ever need to talk. When they are ready for change, you can then support them as you see fit.
On January 31 let’s not only create a platform where people are able to talk, but let’s also remember to listen.