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How a Chance Meeting Led to the Creation of a Mental Health Listening Platform

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I was 18 years old and felt like shit.

I had just moved from a tightly-knit friend group in my hometown and was clueless about what I wanted to do with my life. I would come back after class and lie in bed. I knew something was wrong but wasn’t able to explain exactly what it was. My family or friends would call, and I’d say, “Everything’s great!” or “About the same!”

So I internalized it and the problem grew. I felt like I was slogging through mud every day. Then one day, I was sitting at a coffee shop and a smiling woman wearing a bright purple sweater sat next to me.

Her name was Marianne, but to be honest I learned very little about her. She saw I was stressed (I had no idea it was obvious) and asked me to share what I was thinking about. At first, I was apprehensive. Then she said, “All I want to do is listen.”

For some reason, it resonated with me. Without even realizing it, I began spewing out thoughts and emotions I hadn’t ever articulated before. After 15 minutes talking to a very patient Marianne, I realized I felt great for the first time in weeks, like I was covered in mud and rinsed free or a physical weight was lifted off my chest. I thanked her profusely, bought her coffee, and never saw her again.

I was astounded by the impact a total stranger could provide by simply listening without judgment.

How was I was able to open up to a stranger better than my own close circles? Why did talking help so much? Where do I find more Mariannes?

I thought there must be other people who could use a Marianne too, and (hopefully) more Mariannes out there. So I spent months digging into research. I had three main takeaways:

1. Regular support is a basic need like eating or drinking. An available supportive confidant decreases stress, improves productivity/mood, and lowers your risk for mental and physical illnesses. In fact, a lack of social support is a predictor for death.

2. It’s harder than ever to find support. Although connected online, Americans’ supportive networks have significantly decreased in the past 50 years. The number of Americans with zero confidants tripled between 1984–2004.

3. Who you talk to isn’t nearly as important as the feeling you get talking to them. As long as you feel comfortable and safe, there are positive results.

Even when surrounded by friends or family, it’s very likely we don’t have as much support as our bodies need. It’s difficult to speak to those close to us without holding back for fear of causing judgment, worrying or burdens in others. And that’s OK friends, significant others and families are for much more than dropping feelings onto, and I believe it’s unfair to only use them for this purpose.

But we all do need an accessible, nonjudgmental outlet we can access without fear or hesitation.

Like brushing your teeth, mental support is hygiene our bodies objectively need us to provide.

Whether it’s gratitude practices, meditating or going on a walk, mental hygiene serves the same purpose as physical hygiene. In the same way our bodies require regular maintenance, our minds have hygiene needs as well. You can go weeks without washing your hands, but eventually you might catch a cold. In the same way, ignoring mental hygiene puts us at risk of illnesses.

It’s time to end mental self-care stigmas and acknowledge that each of us can always take better care of ourselves. So I started Recline a self-care tool to find your own Marianne.

Recline finds and vets the best listeners and gives you a safe place to speak to them. The listeners only know your first name, so everything you say will stay only with them (with some self-harm exceptions).

You can say anything you want your peer counselor never waits for their turn to speak, gossips about you or offers unwanted advice. They are just incredible people who truly love to hear what’s going on with you.

Each session is $12, about the price of a movie ticket or fancy cocktail, and I promise it will make you feel better than either. We charge because there are few people who can listen so well, and it’s important and difficult work that deserves compensation. You’d be amazed how 30 minutes of speaking openly to a caring listener can improve a stressful day. I use it myself every week.

If you’ve read this far, give it a try. All it takes is 30 minutes, and who knows — your own Marianne might be waiting.

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Getty Images photo via dobok

Originally published: December 10, 2017
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