Growing up, mental health was a distant thought for me. I buried myself in sport, gymnastics or hockey. I never really believed it would impact me, wrong. That’s where this starts.

Mental health, or lack thereof impacts everyone in some way, shape or form. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or yourself, everyone knows at least one person that is hurting. You may not know it, but that is the issue. You can see when someone has a broken leg, or when someone is in a wheelchair. You can see when someone is visually impaired. You can’t see when someone is mentally unhealthy, it isn’t a “sight” thing. That’s the stigma. “If I can’t see it, it must not be real.” There couldn’t be a more wrong assumption. That assumption, is a big part of the reason why people suffer in silence. It’s easy to get a cast, a walking aid, or some glasses; also pretty easy to diagnose. Mental issues aren’t as tangible, or easy to diagnose as physical issues. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Over the past 3 years, my life has been significantly impacted by mental illness. When someone you are extremely close to is hurting so badly, it negatively impacts you. Living in fear of losing someone who means so much to you, is not a feeling that can be described. I remember there would be days I’d cry myself to sleep in fear, begging for a way to help. For the first year and a half, it consumed me. What can I do? Why is this happening? What is happening? All questions I had no answers to.

Now, after being involved for a few years, the questions I have, is why? Actually, I have a lot of why questions. Why is it that people are so unaccepting of mental health issues? Why does something have to be physical to be believed? Why is there not a larger focus on an area that greatly impacts the youth and adolescence of our world? It is absolutely astonishing that more is not being done about this, when it greatly impacts our world now, and will significantly impact our future.

No case is the same, everyone is in a different headspace. This is where most of our technology crazed, self-centred world goes wrong. There is no medicine that cures a mental illness, like you cure bronchitis. It is never a blanket sickness, and it likely never will be. So what can we do to ensure the stigma around mental illness ends, and the people suffering no longer have to be silent?

From experience, I can say this. The first step to helping someone is to accept it. Accept they are dealing with something that you can’t fully comprehend. Accept that not every day is going to be easy for them, and by extension, you. Accept that there may not be a definitive timeline on their recovery. Accept that it may get worse, before it gets better. Then you have to understand. Understand that there is no cure for this. Understand that it is more difficult for the person to control emotions. Understand that they are uncomfortable.

When I started doing this, I gained a new perspective. I spoke to the person impacted, and asked what she needed from me. You may not be able to cure them, but you better not do things to make it worse. So I listened while she spoke, took mental notes of things I needed to do or change to help. That’s the most important part. LISTENING. It is about her, not me, my personal agenda; her, and her alone. If she would’ve said she needed a break from speaking to me to get better, that is what would’ve happened. If she said I need to call you everyday at this time, that is what would’ve happened. When someone is suffering and willing to open up, LISTEN. Listen to what they need, and do your best to follow through.

Here’s what I do. For one, she knows that whatever she does, I have her back. She is never alone. She knows that what she says to me, she can say and not worry about what I think, or who gets to know. She can ask me questions, and I’ll answer honestly. But most importantly, she knows that if she ever needs to talk, my phone is on all day, and all night. She said she needed a rock, someone she could go to that would never let her down. I let her down once, when I had no idea what I was doing and a year before we had this talk. I promised her, that I would never let her down again.

There have been bad days, good days, and stuck in the middle days. There have been phone calls that have lasted hours, text threads that go back a mile, long drives at night, and impromptu lunches when she’s having a bad day. What she needs from me, she gets. Sometimes I tell her some things she doesn’t want to hear, but she knows I’m doing it because I want her to get better. But here’s the most important thing: I’m learning from her and professionals on how I can help her. It starts by asking.

So where does this lead us? Well, it is BellLetsTalk Day. A day to raise funds and awareness for mental illness. A day to help end the stigma surrounding this. A day where if you haven’t already, you can start be reaching out. A simple, “Hey, how are you?” can go a long way. But, it carries past today. Make the effort everyday. Listen, accept and understand. You may not have to go to the extent I do, but the least you can do is not make it worse. Cut the off-hand comments, the snarky remarks, and the blow-offs. Those don’t help. Kudos to Bell, Clara Hughes, Mike Babcock and everyone else who has joined the fight to end the stigma. No one should have to suffer in silence.

For anyone reading this, I encourage you to reach out. I encourage you to help those around you. For those hurting, I encourage you to open up and be able to speak about your battle.

~Accept. Understand. Listen.~

In case she reads this: I love you. You’ve come so far, and I am so proud of you. Keep going! I’ll always be right behind you.