Everyone has a story and we all need to listen with more understanding

“As part of our commitment to keep families safe through TELUS WISE , we’ve partnered with Carol Todd and the Amanda Todd Legacy Society. We believe in Carol Todd’s initiative and are proud to support her and help her continue sharing her story, educating others and bringing an end to cyberbullying.” 

Not an hour goes by where I don’t stop to think about Amanda. I relish the moments of her birth, her first steps and her first days of going to school. I often wonder about what her life would have been like now as an almost 21 year old young woman.  And in the 5 years since Amanda’s death, I often think about her struggles and her words. Each time I watch the video she made, the words written on the cards etch deeper into my head and my heart. The title of this post are constant words in my head because I often think about what would it have been like if we had listened to Amanda, not more, but better. So with the conversations about mental health being talked about more openly these days than 5 or 6 years ago, what is it we can do to continue to generate the ongoing movement towards more change, support and awareness?

As Amanda’s mom, I have been put into the role of advocacy for causes which encompassed the legacy of my daughter when she was living. Ensuring that young people and families understand about internet safety, cyberabusive behaviours and mental health are the most important areas to focus upon. Research has shown how we as humans learn the most when we listen to ‘real life’ stories and experiences of others. Amanda created her video for the world to learn and we honour that by continuing to share the message on behalf of those who maybe still don’t feel they can speak up for themselves or can’t find their own way.

For me, as Amanda’s mom, it is important too that this legacy lives on. And that every child and family can be part of a needed change to ensure a more positive outlook related to mental health issues in Canada. We need to focus on the mental wellness too.

The inspiration to be a voice for Mental Health and Wellness in Canada and around the world was something that I felt deeply; it badly needed to happen.  Amanda’s voice was quiet and was silenced by the bullying she endured by her peers and others. In 2011 and 2012 when she was suffering the most, mental health was something that was hardly discussed, if at all. When Amanda was still alive, the stigma surrounding asking for help was an every-day reality. There was embarrassment and ridicule about one’s emotional wellbeing if it didn’t meet the average norm in society.  And a young person looking for support didn’t know where to turn.  Stigma continues to exist.  There is also still a need for more resources, education, and awareness. Amanda’s story and what she went through is my motivation for speaking out. There has to be a way to eliminate the Amanda stories in our world. Those suffering from mental health issues and illness need to know that they aren’t alone and that there are others out there who can help and support them.

World Mental Health Day

Wikipedia defines World Mental Health Day as “a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy.” It was first celebrated in 1992 as an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, a global mental health organization with members in more than 150 countries. On this day every October, supporters around the world bring attention to mental illness and its effects on peoples’ lives. The theme for World Mental Health Day 2017 is “Mental Health in the Workplace”.

Amanda’s Legacy has been working diligently on the 5th year of a global campaign called “Light Up Purple” on October 10 for World Mental Health Day.  It continues to be an initiative that is so very important globally, bringing not only awareness but information to families and their children of all ages. The colour purple was chosen to reflect this day, not only because it was Amanda’s favourite colour, but also because the blending of the anti-bullying colours of pink (Canada) and blue (U.S.) brings together purple.  We need to bring significance to mental health and work on de-stigmatizing it. We need to know and understand that it is okay to talk about mental health and wellness and that we can’t be afraid to talk about it out loud.

Recognizing that October 10 is World Mental Health Day can be as simple as having a conversation with someone else on the significance of the purple. Talking about mental health and wellness on October 10 (and every other day) is important. As Canadians and global citizens, there is a need to come together to be that voice and to reach out a hand when necessary.  The problem will never be close to being fixed if we do not have the starting conversations.

As I have previously written, Amanda was always afraid to talk about how she was feeling to others. She was actually very much afraid of the ‘S’ words. Those words being suicide and stigmatization. So the question might be, what words of advice would I give to empower us as global citizens to make that difference and make it so that people who may be struggling aren’t afraid to share their feelings with others?

  1. Have conversations and trust your gut: as parents, caregivers and family members, it is important to spend time with your loved ones and friends and keep talking to them about anything and everything.  Keep yourself informed and up-to-date on the latest trends and risks and if your gut tells you that something is “off”, don’t ignore it.  Be prepared to become that person’s advocate in order to get the help that they may need.
  2. Truly listen and avoid judging: when someone comes to you to share a problem, to discuss how they are feeling emotionally, to talk about something they have done, listen carefully and avoid immediate judgement.  The virtue of trust and support is important here.  If someone doesn’t feel listened to or feels judged, they may not share again and that is not what we, as caring citizens, want.  We know that our kids often talk to their peers first but we need them to come to their trusted adults. We also know that those struggling may not talk at all. It is important that we know the signs and feel comfortable initiating the conversations.
  3. Invest time in learning more about mental health and suicide prevention – people often ask ‘How can I make more of a difference?’ All it takes is to become more aware and educated in mental health first aid and suicide prevention. I recently took a training session called SAFETalk which gave me the tools to be more supportive. One 3 1/2 day session can save the life of another. Time well spent in my opinion.
  4. Take measures to help you and your family stay safe online – the skills that we learn as listeners are also useful when we are having the conversations surrounding technology use and safety within the home and the workplace with our kids, our families, our colleagues and even our aging parents. Keeping informed about the latest trends and issues is important when situations can occur in a millisecond and escalate from minor to major very quickly.
  5. #MakeTodayPositive and wear #purple – as we move towards October 10, it is important to #MakeTodayPositive. Take time every day to do something that makes you smile. Listen to others so that they know they aren’t alone. We must find the patience and perseverance to talk about mental health and to promote mental wellness. We can’t let those who suffer go through their struggles alone.  We have to let them know that there is someone by their side to help, nurture and be with them. If you are wearing #purple on October 10 and someone stops to ask you ‘Why #purple?’, take the time to explain to them ‘The Importance of Being #Purple’. Use World Mental Health Day as a kickoff to a year of conversation and learning.

In closing, I leave you with this: Amanda’s Legacy is inspired by the snowflake.  The snowflake being an object of beauty, fragility and uniqueness.  No two snowflakes are the same and we must look at each carefully to see the inner beauty of each, just as we need to do with every person in our world.  Subsequently, each human can be metaphorically personified as a snowflake.  But as a single snowflake or a single person, it can be hard to exist individually and be a voice for change.

When snowflakes come together to form snowballs, they become stronger and more resilient.  When people group together, they also form an entity of strength and increased resilience not only for themselves but for others. It is with this thought that we need to remember that in order to bring about change, we need to work together and be a unified voice.

Follow Amanda’s Legacy and Light Up Purple on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. On October 10, share your photos of #purple on the following hashtags: #LightUpPurple, #LUP2017, #WMHD2017, #AmandaToddLegacy.