How To Support People With Mental Illness- An Interview With Can You Hear Me?
Wantagh, NY Warped Tour
Can You Hear Me? Is a movement dedicated to giving teens and young adults an online and social media platform from which they can speak and be heard without judgment. They are an organization that is dedicated to listening to those going through rough times- and born out of rough times that motivated a family to make it a point to listen. They’ve put it out there that they are here to listen and I sat down with one of the founders, Ashley at Warped Tour in their tent at Wantagh Warped Tour.
*If you or a loved one are dealing with a crisis text their crisis hotline:
CYHM to 741-741 for support.*
BtS Press: Can You Hear Me? was born of personal tragedy within your family, so this is something you have experience with before this organization began. What do you suggest is the best way for people, especially parents and siblings, to help teenagers who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression?
Ashley CYHM: Honestly just listen. I think it’s the most effective thing any parent or person can do is to not judge how someone is feeling and let them express it. Don’t tell them they are wrong for feeling that way. Honestly, I’ve had a lot of therapy after my cousin died. The whole thing was invalidation. If you invalidate your kids, they feel useless and they think that how they’re feeling is wrong. Validate them. Offer help.
BtS: What would you do to start that conversation, if you notice someone is struggling but not ready or confident about asking for help?
Ashley: I found with my brother before, just sitting down and saying “I love you. I’ve noticed you seem to be struggling and you’re not yourself lately. Do you want to talk about something?” Even just opening up that door and saying do you want to talk? I’m here to listen, you can just talk and I won’t even say anything, no judgement.” That’s the biggest thing. My parents did that with me and it’s the best thing you can do for someone. It opens the doors and allows them to talk without fear.
BtS: Personally throughout my life I have experienced a vast amount of stigma in relation to living with mental illness that later resulted in legal troubles. Unfortunately, while you are offering to be someone who is willing to listen, many people in older generations are still treating teens and people in their 20s-30s like their illnesses are not legitimate illness. What is some advice that you would give to an employer when it comes to treating their employees with mental illness in a way that respects their legal rights?
Ashley: I honestly think if it’s something major asking them, first and foremost, if they’ve come out to you and spoken about it- ask how you can make things better. I do that with our team- if someone is struggling with anxiety, I’ll say, “How can we make this better for you? How can we work around this?” And still get your job done. Obviously you still have to do your job. There’s always alternatives. There’s always ways to go about doing things. There’s not one way to do a job. I think having open communication whether or not they fully know about the illness or they aren’t educated- just willing to make changes to make everyone they work with happy.
BtS: Are there any teenagers that CYHM? has helped that you've been able to follow throughout the course of their journeys? Have any of them turned around to lend a hand to CYHM?
Ashley: The first girl to ever share her story on our page- the first one to ever show her face, at the time she had just got out of the hospital. She lives in the UK. She was suffering with anorexia, self harm, suicidal ideations, depression. We love her, we put her on everything. She is in our team rep group all the time. Just recently she posted to us, “I am clean from self harm for a year and it’s all because of you guys.” She offers her advice and how she's coped with things throughout her journey.
We see that so often. We’ve seen so many people. People who’ve done before and after photos- of when they joined us and months after. It’s amazing we’ve followed through with everybody. It makes me cry every time. Honestly, when my mom and I started this, we didn’t think about how big it gets. Every time somebody says you saved my life, I just feel like all I did was listen to you. We’re not superheroes. But we listen to them and that is everything. They are part of our family.
BtS: You’ve issued a shirt that the proceeds go to assist the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando. Being LGBTQIA+ is something that is difficult for many, but must especially be difficult for teens who identify. Transgender people have a high suicide rate. What advice on the correct things to say would you give to friends and family of teenagers who are LGBTQIA+ who are struggling in light of current events in the world?
Ashley: Our whole teen rep group felt it. It affected everybody because it’s a horrible tragedy. It affected those on my team that are a part of that community. Honestly, we are saying we hear you and we are going to do something about it. Telling them we are going to take action to help is the best thing we can do that is possible. They teach us everyday on the right things to say. Being sensitive to how they are feeling and offering support is the biggest thing.
BtS: Do you have any suggestions for songs or bands you find comforting?
Ashley: PVRIS. I love them so much. I’m a little on the obsessed side. Paramore helped me through so much when I was younger. They’re the best.
Find more information, donate or contact Can You Hear Me? At http://www.cyhm.org/