Are we listening?

Today is #BellLetsTalk day. It is a day that focuses on bringing attention to mental health issues, and how we need to talk about it. It's a fantastic idea.

When I was a child, and even a teenager, mental health issues were not discussed. I had never heard of bi-polar disorder or OCD. Depression just meant someone felt sad and anxiety was something you kept to yourself. Sometimes an adult would hear about a friend of a friend who had a nervous breakdown, but the news was told in a hushed whisper. Shocking. Shameful.

Now, in the year 2017, have we changed? If our fifteen year old starts showing symptoms of being a diabetic, we take them to the doctor, get the tests done and if diabetes is present we treat it, often with medication. If our fifteen year old tells us they feel hopeless and sad all the time, or that they are worthless, do we act? Do we take them to the doctor to investigate? Unfortunately, we are less likely to do that. So often we effectively pat them on the head and tell them we'll talk about it later, or they'll feel better tomorrow.  But what if they don't?

A couple of weeks ago I was stunned when I saw an obituary for a young man who took his own life. I knew him, though not very well. He was a customer at my place of work. He always smiled and was polite and seemed happy. Obviously there was more going on below the surface. He must have been struggling with some major issues.

There have been many other cases of suicide as well, way too many. Some of them are very well publicized and get people talking about issues like mental health and bullying. On the other hand, I'm sure a lot of families keep it very quiet. Not wanting the negative stigma of suicide associated with their loved one.

When I hear that an individual has taken their own life, I am moved with compassion for them and for their family and friends. My heart breaks for all involved. And I always think, "Why did this person think this was the only way out? Why didn't they reach out and talk to someone?"

Sometimes people who are struggling don't reach out. Sometimes there is no warning. But sometimes they do. It may be subtle so we have to pay attention. 

As a parent, I need to make more of an effort to listen to my children. Really listen. I need to turn off the TV, put down the cell phone, stop what I'm doing and truly hear what they are saying. The same goes for friends. Let's keep in touch; be that person who will listen.

Life is busy. There are many demands on us, pulling us in many directions. But please, I encourage you to stop and truly pay attention when someone is talking to you about feeling sad, or anxious all the time, or having trouble coping with day to day life. Don't write it off. Don't assume it's not important, or that it will pass. That person is taking the step to talk. Let's make sure we are listening.