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Let’s Talk…and Listen

By Élizabeth Millaire, PSP Ottawa

In the wake of the Bell Let’s Talk national campaign for mental health awareness, I had the privilege of attending the Mental Fitness and Suicide Awareness workshop delivered by PSP Ottawa Health Promotion.

The workshop, designed to foster mental fitness for personal well-being and provide tools to help identify and help colleagues and loved ones in distress, is one of the many resources available to the CAF and Defence Community.  One of its goals is to reduce stigma and open the dialogue on mental health.

Despite covering an extremely serious topic, the workshop managed to stay light, informative and accessible. It provided participants with invaluable tools such as the Mental Health Continuum, resilience building techniques, and how-tos for broaching the topic of suicide.

What I was not expecting to take away from this session was a greater knowledge of listening techniques, and the discovery of how uneasy active listening made me when it came to the topic of mental health. As a newbie to the mental fitness game, I was surprised to see how uncomfortable I was at having an honest conversation (even if it was just pretend in the case of my group) about mental health… and this is coming from a girl who prides herself on being one of those sensitive-companionate-yogi-types.

When it came time to do a role play exercise where we had to approach a “colleague” who had alluded to thoughts of suicide, my legs got shaky, my palms got sweaty and my repertoire of dad-jokes seemed to flow with the same bravado of a Rodney Dangerfield stand-up act. As Stephen Covey put it: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

The social landscape in regards to mental health acceptance and awareness has changed significantly in the past decade, yet we may still have a long way to go when it comes to encouraging people to talk about mental health if we’re not all willing or able to listen actively when needed. Here are a few take-aways from the workshop:

  • Make eye contact with the speaker and set aside distractions, such as cell phones or computers.
  • Show that you are listening with nodding, verbal cues, restating and summarizing statements, and asking follow up questions.
  • Don’t listen to offer solutions or to “fix the person”; sometimes we just need to be heard and to verbalize thoughts out loud to work through things.
  • DO NOT use communication blockers, such as “why” questions, off-handed reassurances, unsolicited or patronizing advice or interruptions.
  • Consider taking a workshop on interpersonal communications, like our Inter-Comm workshop (shameless plug # 1).
  • Keep it discreet. Unless the person is having thoughts of suicide or planning to harm others (where you can’t be the only person who knows), assure them that Vegas rules apply. What is being discussed will only be disclosed to others with their permission. If you are worried that they may harm themselves, connect them with others who can help keep them safe: friends or loved ones, professional resources (family doctor or Family Info Line counsellors, for example), involve the chain of command or the police who may be in a better position to help.
  • Participate in an initiative like Bell Let’s Talk to create opportunities for discussion on mental health (shameless plug # 2).
  • If appropriate, and if you’re comfortable, talk about your own experiences on the topic and share your trials and successes with the subject at hand.
  • Remember that no one is ever alone. You have access to countless resources in the region if you, a colleague or family member are experiencing depression or have expressed thoughts of suicide. Examples include the Family Info Line (1-800-866-4546); the CAF Member Assistance Program (1-800-268-7708) or the CFSU(O) Chaplain (613-998-3246).

Mental fitness is a responsibility we all share and it’s our duty to ensure that we create a sound workplace to foster good mental hygiene, for ourselves and our colleagues.

About Bell Let’s Talk Day

On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, Bell will donate to mental health initiatives in Canada by contributing ¢5 for every text, call, tweet, social media video view on their network, as well as the use of their Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. Since its inception in 2010, Bell Let’s Talk has donated over $86 million to mental health programs.

About PSP Ottawa Health Promotion

PSP Ottawa Health Promotion, under the direction of Strengthening the Forces, is a program designed to assist (CAF) personnel to take control of their health and well-being. Programs are also available to CAF families and other members of the Defence Team (space provided). For more information about PSP Ottawa Health Promotion or to sign up for a workshop, visit

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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