October 24th, 2020

MLA Report: A listening ear is a start

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on September 19, 2020.

I want to start by offering my deepest condolences to those who have lost someone close to them. It has been hard watching our city come to terms with the rising number of deaths related to suicide and mental illness.

I am sure that most of us know, or are in someway connected to the family and friends that have lost loved ones to in these recent months.

Thank you to all of those who have in any way rendered compassionate assistance to the families affected.

Instead of my usual MLA report this month, I have asked Sandy Stevens, RSW, CCAC to share her thoughts on the importance of taking care of our mental health, particularly focused on men’s mental health…


An interesting thing I have noticed regarding men, they can talk animated for hours about sports, politics, and their work, but to open up about their feelings there is a struggle.

They “don’t want to bother anyone,” “don’t want to be the bummer in the group.” Thus, keeping quiet about the most important things affecting them, with the people that care about them.

Part of our mission in life is to have empathy, compassion, respect, trust, to bear one another’s burdens, and to feel connection with others. Even just quiet companionship can make a difficult period easier. The gentle presence of another provides a sense of “I’m not doing it alone – someone cares”.

How do we do these things? A listening ear is a start. We don’t need to “fix it” for others, we just need to listen, truly listen. Initial questions may be met with “I’m OK.” Don’t be afraid you’ll be a bother, insert yourself with probing questions identifying changes you’ve observed, indicating you want to be there for them.

Involve yourself in the lives of those you have concerns for. Go for a coffee/hot chocolate/ banana split/ cheeseburger. Go for a drive to talk. Hangout at a park. Show concern by expressing support, if he is uneasy about reaching for help alone. Go with him to appointments/ go with him when telling significant people how he is feeling. By helping him down the physical path, you provide the “splint” to hold him until the additional resources can be included to his team.

Balance is so important in all lives. We aren’t meant for all work – no play. Balance is the key. Many good conversations have been held on my backyard basketball hoop with the young men in our family. Going for a morning fishing expedition and having the quiet time in the boat or on the landing. Out for a hike at a trail. Sitting at a bonfire in the evening with the crackling of the fire. Often the bar or alcohol is a method used for relaxation in our society, unfortunately, alcohol by its physical make up is a depressant. Not a good mix for those struggling with depression, anxiety, or self-harming thoughts.

Following up with our friends is so important. Life gets busy. It isn’t that we have forgotten about them, we have just been preoccupied with kids, deadlines, partners, work. An effective method is to always make another time to meet up at the end of each contact. After a coffee make a time to meet next. Make a point of putting in your phone reminders to call, a random phone call or text during the day can be the lifeline someone needed in that moment. If you feel an urge to do something – follow through with that inspiration.

In our conversations with our friends struggling, it is important to point out that there are somethings within our control, and other things that are not. Brainstorming about some of the things that ARE in their control can bring a sense of direction. Asking the question: Will this matter in five weeks/five months/five years can provide more clarity and direction. This can be liberating to take a different vantage point to evaluate the situation.

Anything we do to be supportive to others has strength.

If you could imagine a single stick of kindling and breaking it in half, it would be very easy to do. Each additional stick of kindling added increases the strength and the more difficult it is to break that bundle, until eventually it is impossible to break – as though it were a huge piece of firewood. Just like our bundle of kindling, we as friends can provide those additional layers of support, encouragement, empathy, compassion, love, and kindness.

Walk beside your friend.

As the lyrics from an old song in the 70’s went:

“He’s not heavy, He’s my Brother”!

Medicine Hat, the numbers are: Mental Health Helpline – 1-877-303-2642, Crisis Text Line for Adults – 741741, and the Kids Help Phone – text CONNECT to 686868. 2-1-1 is also available with resources in over 170 languages. Please know that you are never alone.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat.

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