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  • Writer's pictureMona Cooley

Lively Conversation Opens Doors

Seven days of rich, heartfelt, and soulful conversations with others has spiraled into opening doors for more conversations. When you have people feeling comfortable sharing a personal lived experience, the learning experience is real, raw, and others start sharing their stories. Learning about signs and symptoms of mental health problems is great; however, what is better are individuals sharing their story related to their mental health problems. Multiple times, I have had the experience of witnessing strangers attending mental health sessions, sharing their personal lived experience, and expressing how comfortable they felt sharing their story.

Recently, I initiated a conversation with a group of ladies about my concern with reading the newspaper, which is full of mental health problems and suicides. What I know for sure is the majority of people are dealing with mental health problems, not the minority. There is more awareness today than 23 years ago when my family was faced with mental health problems, but with all the awareness, why are the problems worse instead of better? I asked them, “How do we start more conversations so people will feel more comfortable and be willing to have discussions about their struggles?” A suggestion from a Toastmaster member was, in front of the audience, to start with a small step such as having a discussion between two people about how they were feeling and thinking in regards to doing their first speech.

3 things can happen:

1. Shows others how to have a conversation about a personal experience

2. Others learn from a lived experience of what was felt

3. Conversations about tough topics will emerge naturally

Toastmasters worldwide are known for sharing their personal lived experiences; it is the norm. Hearing how someone leaned into their challenges, made mistakes and had success in managing their challenges is the best learning tool. A story allows you to resonate with someone’s experiences, which in turn has you learning “how to” deal with your own challenges. The biggest gift of lived experience is HOPE AND BELIEF THAT IT IS POSSIBLE to get through difficult times.

Talking about having conversations is one step, but taking action is the key to breaking the barriers to having honest conversations.

I asked my new Toastmaster mentee if she would be willing to have a conversation about her experience doing her first speech in front of the club members. I told her why I wanted to have the conversation and she welcomed the experience. For some, feelings can be hard to express and/or express what they want to say. Having a conversation is a way to lean into the situation and experience it fully.

Stay tuned for the outcomes of our conversation and her response to answering my first question – “How did you feel about doing your speech this evening?”

I am reaching out to you for help. What suggestions can you make to have more conversations about mental health problems so we minimize the problems and maximize the learning through lived experience?

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