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We Need to Talk

I had quite a serious talk with my daughter this weekend about mental health.  The topic of suicide was broached, and she was curious.  Reflecting on it now, I am so happy that I was able to have such an open conversation with my thirteen year old.  Mental health is a topic that we don't talk enough about - and when I say "we", I mean society.

Unfortunately, I have known people who decided to end their life in this tragic way because they were struggling so hard with their mental health, that it seemed like the only way out.  We, who are left here on this earth  are left with an abundance of questions when we try to make sense of it all.  Questions and "if only" statements - and I am pondering whether the biggest "if only" is something that we can change, and hopefully save lives by doing so.

"If only we talked about it."

So often when we hear about someone being depressed, or that they took their own life because of depression, and our reaction is to say, "I didn't know."  I am not saying that everyone who is depressed or struggling needs to wear a sandwich board declaring so.  I do, however, think that we all can help to bring awareness to mental health and learn how to talk about it.  When a colleague down the hallway isn't themselves, or a student suddenly withdraws and shows signs, there are things we can say to let them know we are here for them and are supportive. 

It all begins with just letting them know we are here for them.  One time, a few years back, I was having a hard time and I went to a colleague to talk.  He heard me out, but then he said, "I am here and my door is open if you ever want to chat."  That meant the world to me just to know that the offer was open and I had a safe place to go if I needed to talk.  Sometimes it doesn't take much to show support, just a few simple words, "My door is open."

A family member of mine was depressed and struggling, and I didn't quite know how to help.  I kept saying, "I know what you are going through." (I didn't), or "Maybe you should do this, [insert idea here]"  I was making a big mistake.  My family member simply looked at me in frustration and said, "You don't know.  I don't need you to fix this, I just need you to listen."  It was then that I learned that perhaps once they knew I was there for them, all I really needed to be was a set of open ears, and perhaps a shoulder to lean on every once in a while.  Be there for them.

I once had a student who struggled with depression, and they were quite open about it with me.  Every once in a while they would come into my classroom and tell me, "Hey Ms. Helman... I am having a bad day."  I heard them, and knew that if I could provide one small period of time where that bad day could feel good, and they smiled while in my class, that I was helping - even if it was only for a short time.  I would then review my lesson that I had planned and maybe tweak it a bit to ensure some fun was had.  Whether it was in the form of a small game, a collaborative activity or a fun brain break, once I saw a smile across their face I knew I had helped.  Remind them they are fun, remind them of their smile.

I have seen depression take over the life of people close to me.  I have seen the pain in not being able to get up off the couch for days, and I have heard the words of depression, "I don't feel I have purpose."  In those dark, horrible moments of depression, those suffering truly feel they have no value.  As their support systems, we need to remind them how important and valued they are in our lives.  It won't be a "fix", but we are human and feeling loved, important and valued is such a strong feeling and can begin to bring light to even the darkest moments.  When someone you love is depressed and in that dark place, find a way to show them their value.

Each day, in the classroom, we work with students and help them see that we believe in them.  When students know their teachers believe in them, their productivity and success will skyrocket.  Students who are dealing with depression also need to know we believe in them, maybe even more so.  Depression will darken their belief and make them think they can't do anything.  By sharing with them that we are there and support them because we believe in them, we help them to trust in that value we told them they possess.  It doesn't minimize the gravity of what they are dealing with, it just shows that we are there for them.

As someone who is supporting a loved one, friend or student who is struggling with mental health , we can help them to begin that conversation by showing our support, opening that door and listening when they are ready.  Too many people don't share their story with others because they perhaps aren't sure they have the support.  I plan to continue to learn how to support and be there so those I care about feel open to talking and sharing.  These are conversations that need to happen and those who are depressed shouldn't feel afraid to let others know what they are going through.  We all can help in small ways.


#BeWellEDU
~Charity

This post was inspired by a healthyplace.com infographic.

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