Today, being Bell Let's Talk Day with 5cents from every tweet doing to mental health initiatives in Canada, I wanted to do my part. The problem is I didn't know where to start. In 140 characters, what can you say? How can you properly start the conversation?
How do I explain that as a parent I had to take my child out of school because her anxiety was so bad that she considered taking her own life? Or how the friends that she once had, all abandoned her because they didn't understand and thought that she was just skipping school? How I was not only my daughter's advocate but became her best friend? Now years later, through knowledge and experience we can recognize her triggers, understand that she is worse during the winter months. She can see that it won't always be so dark, that there is light on the other side. She has learnt to forgive herself and look to the future. Recently, she graduated high school. It took longer than she had expected, but she did it and for that we are both so proud. Now, out of school and yet to find a job, I find myself worrying and keeping on her case about getting out of the house. That fear is still there for me as I'm sure it is for her, but I know that together we can get through this.
Perhaps, I should discuss my own anxieties. Or about how a bully neighbour had me to the point that I constantly kept my curtains drawn and was afraid to leave my house. Afraid to actually live. Or how suddenly, following my 5th and final child, I suffered from overwhelming anxiety that required medication, and that now, 8 years later, I still have occasional panic attacks. Perhaps, I should mention how in my first year of university so many years ago, that I became incredibly depressed and simply stopped attending, while hiding it all from my own mother. Afraid of what people would think.
I could also mention my other daughter that is on the Autism spectrum, whose anxieties and emotional disregulation cause her to need to miss school and are met with a very unsupportive response from her school. They lack the understanding to help and prefer to get rid of the "problem kids", as opposed to helping parents and students work through the mental difficulties. Now I realise that autism itself is not a mental illness, but the other disorders that she has (like anxiety and depression) are exacerbated by the way her brain is wired. And it is so hard to not be able to break through and reassure her that everything will work out in the end.
I just couldn't explain that all in 140 character segments! You see, once the conversation is started, sometimes it is difficult to stop. And more than the conversation itself, which can be just words, my hope is for people to actually start LISTENING. Actively listen. Be empathetic. Don't judge. Invite those in trouble out for a coffee. Send them a text just to say hi. Be for them what you would want if you were drowning and needed a helping hand. Be a shoulder to cry on. Be a true friend. And finally, be aware...a person in trouble may not always be able to ask help, but will surely appreciate any help you have to give.