Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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#MentalHealth

Blue Monday, which occurs on the 3rd Monday of January, is often publicized online and in the news as the most depressing day of the year. While scientific evidence has proven this is not true, this term continues to trend on social media every January and contributes to the conversation around mental health awareness. January is also home to Bell Media’s popular mental health awareness campaign #BellLetsTalk, where Bell contributes proceeds from every #BellLetsTalk hashtag used in text messages or on social media on that day to support mental health organizations.

With all of these social media initiatives contributing to the conversation around mental health, I am amazed at how far we have come. There was a time when people were encouraged to hide their mental illness from the world, due to stigma and shame. Now, there are hundreds of online support communities that want people to share their mental health stories and show them they are not alone. Social media has truly changed the way we look at mental health.

In 2018, it is expected that 20 million Canadians will have at least one social media account to connect with the world around them, share news, and stay in touch with friends. Social media also provides us with a sense of community. People suffering with their mental health often describe being stigmatized by their illness and have trouble speaking out about it at school or work. The mental health community on social media has given people an opportunity to contribute to mental health awareness by giving them a voice. People can now search a hashtag like, #TalkAboutIt on Twitter or search mental heath support groups on Facebook and find like-minded individuals who are experiencing the same things they are. The ability to connect with others through social media is an incredible thing.

Regular people dealing with mental health challenges aren’t the only ones speaking up. Social media gives us access to celebrities and influencers like never before. It should come as no surprise that celebrities, just like us, suffer from mental health issues or know some who does. A lot of popular celebrities have come forward via social media in recent years to speak about their mental health and support others who are dealing with mental health challenges of their own. Well-known public figures such as Carrie Fisher, Lady Gaga and Ryan Reynolds have used their social platforms to help reduce the stigma around mental illness. Seeing this kind of support and acceptance from a huge celebrity can truly make a difference to someone who is dealing with their own mental health challenges.

Mental health organizations are also now using social media to help them implement campaigns around mental health awareness. Organizations like CAMH and The Canadian Mental Health Association have utilized social media to show followers what they’re working on and the impact their organization has on mental health. People dealing with mental health issues are now a lot more aware of the services that these organizations provide, and have the ability to connect with them more efficiently than ever before.

That being said, I know there is a dark side to social media use as well. Issues like cyber bullying continue to plague these social networks, and can end up creating mental health challenges instead of assisting them. That’s why I think it’s so important to practice the kinds of values that are promoted on these trending days, like acceptance and understanding, year round.

With 30 years of experience in the mental health field, seeing the outpour of support that comes through on social media on days like #BellLetsTalk or #WorldMentalHealthDay is amazing. While I don’t love every aspect of social media, I do love the mental health community that has emerged as a result of it.


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Are you listening to me?

deep convo

If you were to poll the employees in your office, you would find that most people believe they are great listeners. They spend most of their day on the phone, communicating with colleagues and giving and receiving instructions. They’ve been listening all their lives – of course they would be good at it! Take the quiz I’ve compiled and see how many of these phrases sound like you:

1. Sometimes I find it easier to concentrate on listening to someone when I am doing something with my hands.

2. In order to contribute to the conversation, I tell a story I think is similar to the one the person is telling.

3. In order to help the person I’m talking to feel heard, I assure them,“I know exactly how you feel”.

4. I try not to distract the person I’m listening to by nodding, gesturing or interrupting their story with “mm-hmm’s” and “uh-huh’s”.

5. I want to be able to offer the best advice possible, so I often think of what I’m going to say while the other person is talking so I don’t forget.

6. To show that we have a close relationship and that I’m on the same page as them, I will often find myself finishing his or her sentence for them.

7. A silence while someone is sharing something important is never good – I try to fill silences as often as I can. 

How did you do on this quiz? Are you a good listener?

I won’t deceive you any longer. This quiz was compiled to demonstrate exactly what good listeners do NOT do. But the behaviours listed above don’t seem all that bad, you might be thinking. Good listening requires some social nuances that you may not be aware of . Listening is also an active activity, one that takes attention and effort – whereas hearing may be considered passive. So, let’s break down what it means to actually be a good and active listener, using the examples above.

1. While it may be easier for you to listen while fidgeting or having your hands occupied, you may be giving off the impression that you are distracted, even if you are listening intently! The last thing you want is the person sharing with you to feel like you would rather be doing something else than listening to them.

2. It’s understandable that you might want to share a story about a similar experience or event while listening to someone – you want them to know you understand where they’re coming from! As a good listener, however, you must understand that no two situations are exactly the same, and even if experiences are similar, his or her take on the experience may be very different from yours. As well, when you respond to someone else’s shared experience with your own experience of a perceived similar event, the conversation then becomes about you not them, and this does not reinforce to the other person that you are truly listening to their needs. Respect the differences and try to understand their experience.

3. To reiterate the point above, you may have had similar experiences, but do you truly know exactly how someone feels? The person sharing with you may feel invalidated by hearing that their feelings are normal, common, or worse, not worth the time they are spending talking about them with you. In fact, the other person could very well feel that this exchange has now become about you and not about the information they’ve shared with you. Avoid saying you know exactly how someone feels, and instead seek to understand the intricacies of their unique feelings.

4. This particular behaviour might be a contentious point, because differences in culture and demographics can affect whether using supportive noises such as “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” are appropriate as a listener. For some, supportive noises and sounds encourage a speaker to continue sharing and demonstrates a listener’s interest and care for the person and the subject matter. For others, these noises could be considered interruptive. Do your best to understand what is appropriate, respecting cultural differences.

5. If you are thinking of the next thing you will say as a person is talking, you are not giving the other person your full attention. Ultimately, the person you are listening to will likely appreciate that they’ve been fully heard versus receiving advice you formulated while multi-tasking, or not interested.

6. This is another contentious one: When you attempt to finish someone’s sentences correctly, the other person might appreciate the feeling of understanding, familiarity and closeness associated with your relationship in that moment. Get it wrong, however, and you run the risk of seeming interruptive and totally in left field about how the person feels. Finishing other people’s sentences can also be perceived as a sign that you are not being patient and respectful of the other person needing more time to articulate their thoughts into speech. Better to avoid finishing someone’s sentences unless you are very close with the other person and can accurately predict their thinking.

7. Never fear silence! Silence can allow you to collect your thoughts as an active listener in order to understand and give better advice, as well as encourage the speaker to share more about what they’re feeling.

Now that you have some tools to better equip yourself as a listener, test them out! See if you can pick up on your habits and traits as a listener, and how you can better develop this important skill – both for use in your personal life and the workplace.  Remember, to be a good listener, you need to be an active listener.

Do you still consider yourself a good and active listener? Were any of the behaviours surprising to you?