I love the #BellLetsTalk initiative. It creates awareness to mental health issues, and destroys barriers created by ignorance and stigma.

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Unfortunately, there is a big push for that day, and then it fades. People shut up, listening is deafened, and awareness pervades. I know for myself, my family, and friends around me, there is much to be said about the stigmatization of mental health issues. I realize how touchy a topic it remains whenever I begin sharing aspects of my own struggles with people I assume are more aware and I get the same response.

Shock and discomfort.

I am purposefully writing this blog before the weekend, after the highlights of ‘Bell Let’s Talk!’ have subsided. It serves as a reminder to myself first, the loved ones around me, and finally you the viewing audience who are all people of influence in your unique circles of society. It is a reminder to keep talking, keep improving, keep growing, and keep listening. More importantly, keep understanding.

Communication is one of my key strengths (apparently), but I still struggle to listen. Whenever we are hearing stuff that does not appeal to us or troubles us or is outside our comfortable parameters, we begin to build a barrier. It is natural and there is no apology necessary. But not attempting to improve is just not acceptable. I say that to myself as much as I do to anyone else. So, I come up with oversimplified methods to help me remember how to bring honour to the one sharing in those moments. Here is one I like to use, and hopefully helps you the next one chooses to talk when you are unsure whether you would really like to listen. Actually, I will move the conversation from ‘listen’ to ‘communicate’, because it is not just a one way street.

MALE. I like it because I am one, it is simple, and I love acronyms:

Move

Actually change your proximity so your posture tells the other person you care. And it will tell your mind the same thing.

Ask

Openly ask questions for more information. Not with a tone or in a clinical manner. Ask in a way that allows the other to know they are safe to continue the story, possibly at a spot where they hedged themselves because it felt awkward to go forward.

Listen

Yes, I know that’s a little simplistic, but many do not. We stand there waiting to talk, or have a learned response of posture that portrays hearing. Listening is taking it to the next level: emotion, inflection, body posture, etc. Do more than take in information.

Engage and Encourage

Remember you will have plenty of time to share with this person when it is not on their emotional moment. Think through the above and imagine at what point you got uncomfortable with not sharing? Why do you need to share in the middle of another person’s story? Do you get up in a theatre and start telling your own take on how the movie will end? No. Participate in their story, and encourage more, or at least thank them for what they have brought to your life.

And if after that, it really feels like a moment you can include something that fits, ask if you can Share. Yes, ask. Do not assume when communicating that every time you hear you also speak. It is not a sale. (And yes, I know that makes MALES, but it doesn’t always fit)

So keep talking, and keep listening.

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