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"When speaking openly about my own struggles with mental illness, my peers would either recoil with uncertainty, or smother me in affection. I was left feeling isolated or suffocated, never heard or validated."
"When speaking openly about my own struggles with mental illness, my peers would either recoil with uncertainty, or smother me in affection. I was left feeling isolated or suffocated, never heard or validated."

"When speaking openly about my own struggles with mental illness, my peers would either recoil with uncertainty, or smother me in affection. I was left feeling isolated or suffocated, never heard or validated."

Be There Stories
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Rachel Summers on knowing your role when someone is struggling.

When I first started struggling with my mental health, Bell Let’s Talk was just launching – speaking out about your mental health was rare, and mental health resources weren’t widely available. It was truly a dark and lonely time that involved a lot of sleep, isolation, and shame. When speaking openly about my own struggles with mental illness, my peers would either recoil with uncertainty, or smother me in affection. I was left feeling isolated or suffocated, never heard or validated. All I wanted was for someone to sit with me. I wasn’t asking for anyone to fix my problems, I just wanted someone to hold my hand while I walked my own path.

Today I see leaders in the mental health space being proud, loud and celebrated. I am many years into my journey with mental illness, but it’s only in the last eight months that I have started to share my experience. My doctor has prescribed me plenty of medication and individual therapy over the years, but I often wonder if prescribing a Be There crash course to my friends and family would have made more of a difference. If I listed the top ten treatments contributing to my recovery, you wouldn’t find a therapist or medication at the top of the list -- you would find my friend, Tia.

Our friendship began as the girlfriends of guys who were best friends. Looking back on that time, I had no idea that my friendship with Tia that would be the one to last. But I was fortunate it did. Tia plopped herself down and met me where I was at. She didn’t force me out of my comfort zone, and she didn’t intrude into my space. She simply listened and kept me company. She never appeared shocked, and never changed how she treated me as she learned more about my struggles. The ability to be my whole self without being defined by any one characteristic was powerful. I didn’t feel like I was burdening her, but our conversations certainly lightened my load. 

Tia embodied Be There’s 5 Golden Rules. She cared about me and protected me, but she also set her own boundaries to protect herself. Tia knew her role and never overstepped. She was a good friend who let me share my problems but resisted the urge to fix them. The safety and acceptance I found in our friendship stopped me from losing myself to mental illness. When asked how I made it through, I would reply, “Tia”.

Tia the hero of my story, and I count myself very lucky. If she had been there at the beginning of my journey to set an example for my friends and family, the early years of my illness could have been very different. If there’s anything the other people closest to me could learn from Tia, it’s that simply being there may be the most powerful way you can change someone’s course through the ups and downs of mental illness. The happy ending to my story is that now, on the other side, there’s a resource that didn’t exist during my struggles -- a resource that can help anyone be a Tia for their own social circle. Be There gives everyone the opportunity to learn how to help a loved one through the dark.