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We Need to Do More Than Just 'Talk' About Mental Illness

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Even though I openly discuss mental health on my blog and in my work, I still don’t really talk about it.

When I have, even with the most lovely and loving of friends, I sense deep discomfort and a tendency to try and change the subject. Want to know why? It’s can be really hard for both parties.

Though I appreciate those who are offered support in response to Bell’s #LetsTalk Campaign, being a listener and supporting someone with mental health issues is really difficult and is seldom as simple as just talking. We as humans are empathetic and it’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s struggles. That’s why people go to therapists. It’s sometimes hard to listen to someone’s mental health struggles. People literally train for years and years so they know what to do. You wouldn’t ask your best friend to help you fix your broken leg or tell you what to do about an autoimmune disease, you’d go to a professional.

You are not qualified to treat your friends with mental illness.

But you know what you are good at?

Driving them to the doctor. Offering to go to therapy with them and waiting outside. Buying them ice cream after the appointments or picking up their medication. You’re good at helping them clean their apartment or having a sleepover. You’re good at making tea and hiding the booze. You’re good at staying on the phone until they fall asleep. You’re good at helping them do research about what kind of health professional they should see. You’re good at hugs and crying and being patient as they come to terms with the fact they need professional help. You’re good at calling them out in a gentle and loving way. You’re good at checking in. You’re good at loving them and making them feel loved.

So instead I propose some alternatives to #letstalk.

Let’s Listen. Let’s reflect. Let’s hold space. Let’s arm ourselves with resources. Let’s lead by example and take care of our own mental health. Let’s learn the signs and symptoms of mental unrest and ask questions. Let’s be there when our friend makes the first phone call to their doctor or therapist and if need be, dial for them. Let’s take care of each other whether or not we have been diagnosed or identified as struggling. Let’s be brave and offer to be there. Let’s do kind things for each other without the prompting of a corporate campaign. Let’s practice being present. Let’s not be afraid of other people’s tears or our own.

Let’s not make it about us.

Let’s show up even when they don’t ask for help, because I know by the time someone is ready to admit or ask for help, it’s much, much too late and that person has been struggling for a long time. Let’s just be better friends. Let’s talk about our own mental health and not just today on Facebook.

Let’s stop talking about talking about mental health and actually talk about it.

Want to read more of my ranting about mental health and how to be useful? Read more here. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter to get all the latest news and rambling that doesn’t appear here and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund.

Originally published: February 21, 2017
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