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KELLY BREVIG COLUMN: Candid conversation is exactly what we need

Kelly Brevig

A conversation began recently in a social setting that required name tags. It was an everyday encounter, one that was pleasant and wouldn't necessarily stand out, which is the point. The dialogue flowed nicely and somehow turned to the topic of mental health. "I have depression, and when I was younger, I had no idea what it was. It wasn't OK to talk about it."

This was a normal conversation. It wasn't awkward, in fact, it sparked further sharing of resources. "I have depression too. I have found that medication has really helped me." For the record, we also talked about summer plans, taking walks, and everything else one would expect at a social gathering that required name tags. As I left that evening, I felt as if I witnessed a small victory in mental health awareness. This candid conversation is exactly where we as a community need to go. We need to make conversations about depression and mental health as common and discussable as our summer plans.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. A potential anthem, the song, "Brave," by Sara Bareilles, keeps running through my head. "Say what you want to say, let the words fall out. Honestly, I want to see you be brave." What beautiful words to encourage us to bring what is in our hearts and minds out into the open. In a world that has only whispered words like depression, anxiety, mood disorders, learning disabilities, we are starting to talk freely about our mental and emotional challenges.

As the world is making a more public shift in mental health conversations, our personal relationships may also be diving deeper. It's possible that someone we care about is in need of help. A moment of absolute bravery on the part of someone feeling hopeless, while empowering, can leave us feeling helpless. In the world of suicide prevention, we often talk about and train others on what to say and do in the event a friend or family member discloses they are in crisis. It can be a scary conversation to both open up to someone about thoughts and feelings we are experiencing and also to be on the receiving end of the conversation. This is where the bravery anthem asks, "How big is our brave?"

Here are a few tips that can bolster our bravery in such a conversation:

  • Take a deep breath. When we breathe deep, we lower our blood pressure and the cortisol which is released by increased adrenaline. Breathing deeply can help us remain grounded, think clearly, and will also help the person in a crisis to do the same.
  • Listen without judging or planning a response. A person in crisis needs the freedom to process what is happening to them without fear of condemnation.
  • Directly ask the question, "Are you feeling suicidal?" This can be a difficult question to ask but is necessary to have an understanding of how to help.
  • Let them know you care. "I am here for you." "You are not alone." "I want to help." Words should encourage the person for who they are and for their honesty. "I'm so glad you told me. I want you to live."
  • Help connect them to services. It is critical that we reach out to others in their time of crisis to offer hope. Often times, we are asked to keep this conversation confidential or believe we can manage it alone. It is important to find as much support for the person in crisis as possible.
  • Contact the 24-hour Mobile Crisis Line at 800-422-0045 and have a team of professionals come to you. Use the free Crisis Text Line by texting "MN" to 741741 and ask for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Reach out to an already established therapist or doctor.

In honor of all the helpers and all those who have coped with mental illness, thank you for being brave.

Kelly Brevig is Suicide Educational Services Coordinator with Evergreen Youth & Family Services.