Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is on January 31st this year. It’s a brilliant branding move, but it’s also so much more than that. Bell’s Let’s Talk Day has made it okay for everyone to talk about mental health. It’s opened up a platform for everyone to contribute to the conversation.
Over the last few years, I’ve realized I grew up with a lot of assumptions about people in general. I inherently attached shame to so many circumstances – how someone dressed, how they talked, things they did. I had developed a system of judging people according to my own experience of life, not theirs.
I’m not even sure where these assumptions came from, but it wasn’t until I started to notice patterns in my own way of dealing with emotions, that I started to ask questions (to Google, of course). I started wondering why I would burst out in rage at a seemingly insignificant comment or action of my husband. I noticed how my heart would pound out of my chest and I couldn’t think clearly when I felt an urgent to-do list stacking up.
Learning more about my own anxiety and how to cope with it has dramatically increased my compassion for the world around me. As I’ve worked through other significant moments in my life in therapy, I feel so much more aware of the reality that everyone I meet has faced, is facing, and will face challenges that will affect their mental health.
This awareness has increased my compassion and decreased my judgement. And if this self-awareness-turned-other-awareness is something you haven’t experienced yet, I highly recommend you start now. Like, right now.
Go work on your own self. Own your story. Understand yourself. Give yourself some compassion.
And then let’s talk. Let’s open up the conversation on mental health.
Here are three things you can do to end the stigma:
If mental health is something you don’t know much about, there are endless resources at your fingertips that you can access to learn more about it.
Educate yourself as to what the experience of another may be. Look into some of the myths you may be believing about mental health.
Pay attention to the way the language around the conversation of mental health has evolved. What terms are appropriate? What terms are outdated and why don’t we use them anymore?
Find out some of the different reasons people struggle with mental health. It could be grief (which isn’t limited to experiencing the death of a loved one); it could be trauma; it could be a myriad of other things.
If you notice that a friend or loved one may be struggling with mental health challenges, ask them about it. Kindly and gently ask how they’re really doing.
If they decide you are a safe place for them to open up and talk about it, listen. Ask probing questions to learn more. “What’s that like for you? How has this impacted your life? Tell me more about that.”
Pay attention, in conversations, to behaviours that indicate a friend should seek professional help. For example, staying in bed most of the day, isolating themselves from social gatherings, difficulty completing tasks, etc.
Respond with empathy. Lean into the discomfort. Feel the weight of what you’ve just heard.
Empathy doesn’t require you to have had the same experiences as the person you’re listening to. It simply requires you finding some part of yourself that can relate to the emotional root of what they’re experiencing.
Brene Brown, who is an absolute expert and has so much to share on empathy, vulnerability, and shame says, “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
We are all seeking connection. It’s the reason we’re alive. Fuel connection by responding without judgement and by setting aside your assumptions. Fuel connection by giving love as freely as you can.
Always, always, always remind your friends, loved ones, and strangers whom you may be conversing with that there is no shame in seeking professional help and point them in that direction. Not in a brushing-them-off kind of way, but in a way that acknowledges there is only so much you can do to help as a friend.
If you’re the person who needs to share with someone else about what you’re experiencing, find a safe person you can trust and talk. And if the first person you tell doesn’t respond empathetically, find someone else. Talk again. Keep talking until you are heard and cared for.
Getting professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s one of the bravest things you can do.
You don’t need to suffer alone anymore. Bring your burdens into the light.
You are not alone.
P.S. Let’s talk. For real. Share your thoughts below and share this post around to help end the stigma.