Lisa K. Boehm
14 November 2023
Ty Strawford - What to Say When Someone is Struggling
Lisa K. Boehm
14 November 2023
In this episode, mental health advocate Ty Strawford shares valuable insights on how to support loved ones who may be suffering from mental health issues and offers advice on what to say when someone is struggling.
Ty's own journey began after surviving a suicide attempt, which led him to a profound moment of clarity and a desire to help others. Through his organization, Invisible Mental Health and the the We See You event, Ty has become an inspiration for mental health awareness and resilience. He emphasizes the power of community in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly for men, who often face societal pressure to suppress their emotions.
Ty believes that open conversations and support networks are crucial for fostering understanding and acceptance. He also highlights the need for improved mental health resources in workplaces and schools. Ty's story serves as a testament to the transformative impact of speaking up and uniting in the face of mental health challenges.
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Host/Lisa: Perhaps you've wondered how you can support your loved ones who may be suffering with mental health, or what to say when someone is struggling. In this episode, we will be hearing from Ty Strawford, who will answer these questions and more. Ty is a mental health advocate who has turned to helping those who struggle with mental health after he survived an attempt on his own life. My name is Lisa and this is rising strong mental health and resilience. I've been a health coach since 2012 and have faced my own mental health struggles. My goal is simple, help you be well and stay resilient. Make sure to follow and subscribe so you don't miss a single episode. Welcome to Rising Strong, Ty.
Ty: Hey, thanks for having me.
Host/Lisa: So, just for our listeners, about two months ago, I met you at an event that you hosted, and I was blown away for a number of reasons. One, you're 21 years old, Ty. I know plenty of 30, 40 and 50 year olds who couldn't put something like this together. And two, over half of your speakers and performers were male, and a good portion of your audience that night was men. What you are doing for mental health is nothing short of incredible. And I know I said this just a few seconds before, but you're 21 years old and you're the owner of Invisible Mental Health and co creator of the we see you event. That is quite an accomplishment for anyone. Can you tell us more about how all of this came to be?
Ty: I have dealt with mental health issues for a really big chunk of my life. About a year ago in September, I made an attempt on my life, and I was in the hospital, and I had a moment of clarity. I was thinking, like, okay, my life almost just ended. I could have lost everything, right? And I was just kind of thinking, like, I kind of want my life to mean something. And I just kind of was thinking, like, I didn't want anyone to have to feel how I had been feeling. So that was pretty much the start of everything.
Host/Lisa: when you say moment of clarity, I'm really curious about that. Did you know right then and there that you wanted to help other people?
Ty: Yes. That was the first thing that I kind of started thinking about after just the whole big realization of just what I could have lost.
Host/Lisa: That's incredible. So, before I asked you to come on the podcast, I did my own research, and I listened to your awesome interview on CBC and some other blogs that you had written and such, and it really became clear to me that you focus on the power of community. Can you tell us more about that and why you believe it's so important?
Ty: I think it's really important, and I feel like it's really powerful for people to see, like, a community of people who are open to sharing what they're going through, are wanting to talk about it, especially for men. Like you were saying before, I was really happy to have a lot of men out there because that's like the big chunk of the population who are just in that stigma of, oh, just like, man up, don't talk about it. You don't need to talk about it. Deal with it on your own. So I think it's good to see, have people see all these people come together that are willing to talk about it.
Host/Lisa: I agree. I think we've gotten to a point where we see more women stepping forward, sharing their stories, being vulnerable and so on. But it seems to be a lot harder for men. Why do you think mental health is so unseen and so invisible when you.
Ty: Compare it to physical illnesses. Say, like, you broke your arm, like you're walking down the street, you walk into work, everyone sees that you have a broken arm, and they're all willing to help because they can see right away that you're struggling with your arm. Right. But you can't see mental health issues, and people are really good at masking those kinds of things. Like myself, I used to mask all of my mental health issues for the most part, or at least masking most of it.
Host/Lisa: You had an excellent point, though, and I realize that it's a silly question because we can't see mental health. I mean, I have been carrying my own mental health secrets for 23 years, and I think we become experts at sayinG, I'm fine, I'm okay, just having a bad day and not really being honest because we can't see it like a broken arm. So I think that's an excellent answer. I'm really curious, though, I think. How did you mask your mental health struggles?
Ty: I would just put on a happy face, put on lots of the time I'd be at home, I'd be in my room. I'd just be really obsessed. I could just be crying in my room. And then it's like, okay, supper time. All right, wipe the tears away, put on a happy face, have family supper, and, yeah, like you were saying before, just a whole lot of saying, yeah, I'm good, I'm good, I'm good.
Host/Lisa: Did you ever feel that there was a time when your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, somebody asked you, hey, are you really okay that you really felt like maybe you could tell somebody.
Ty: I've never really been too comfortable talking about that stuff with my family in person. I mean, I've definitely had that happen with closer friends and maybe over text just because it's a lot easier, but, yeah, not normally with family.
Host/Lisa: And why do you think that is?
Ty: I don't want to be getting nagged about it, be thinking about it more, bothering people.
Host/Lisa: Were you ever worried about being a burden to your family? Even though I think realistically that would never be an issue, but I think when we're in the middle of struggling with our mental health, we don't always think clearly. Were you ever afraid of being a burden on your family?
Ty: 100%. That was a big chunk of the reason why I didn't want to talk about it a lot, because there's always been situations where I've needed something done differently because of my mental state. And I'll just think about it and be like, oh, they're probably going to get bummed out a little bit from what I have to say and what I need.
Host/Lisa: Do you think that our society, there's a lot of pressure on being happy and all of that kind of stuff?
Ty: 100%, especially through social media, like Instagram specifically, just because of what social media is? It's really just like a highlight reel. We had one of Our first speakers talk about this at our very first event. Like what you see on Instagram, it's like, oh, they're just taking the absolute best pictures, the best moments of their life, and they're putting that on display for everyone to see. And everything you're seeing is just like, happy, happy. Everyone's happy, happy, happy. Their new car, their vacation. And so it's really easy to fall into that pit of, oh, why am I not happy? I need to be happy. All these other people are happy. No one else is sad. Like I'm sad right now. But in reality, it's obviously a lot more people are sad than happy or dealing with mental health issues that don't show it on social media.
Host/Lisa: Absolutely. And that brings up, actually, another question that I want to ask you, because you do speak about this very topic, and that's about the pros and the cons of social media and mental health.
Ty: Well, I think it's kind of like in life, there's always a positive and a negative of everything. And I think it's just more like a matter of being able to focus on the positives of social media. And yes, there are the negatives of the comparisons, as I think that's the biggest issue. But there's also so many positives, like, you're able to connect with everybody. You're able to connect with anybody. All over the world, I talk to so many friends that I've made just online, other places of the world, I talk to them. If I need someone to talk to things like that, it's really all just about how you look at things.
Host/Lisa: With that, for sure, do you find yourself distancing yourself from certain situations or certain accounts on social media because they're really not serving you well, or are you searching out certain things and filling up your feed that way?
Ty: I would say, like, in the past, I have removed things from what I would see in my feed, like TikTok specifically. I remember not too sure when, but there was a certain time where I would see a bunch of negative things on TikTok. And there's, like, an option where you can basically say you're not interested in this type of video. And I would normally do that a lot so that eventually the things I were seeing were a lot more positive, and all the negative things I was seeing were not showing up as much or at all.
Host/Lisa: That's a really smart thing. And I think that on most social media platforms, there is some kind of option to do that in some way, shape, or form. Even the people in our lives, and we love them, and they're our friends or our family or what have you. But some people we can mute, we can kind of create our social media so that it suits our needs. And sometimes I think we just need to be cognizant of that and to follow the things and the people that are going to fill our bucket rather than deplete it.
Ty: Like a big thing is, I was just thinking about this. You are the creator of your environment. Things around you are your environment, but you are able to perceive those things, and you are able to choose your environment so much.
Host/Lisa: Well, really choose wisely. Right? Like, whether it's people, whether it's social media, we know perceive them the way we want to see them, or we can just choose what we surround ourselves with. I can't remember who said this. I always say it's Oprah, and I might even have that wrong. But somebody, some big influencer, said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So if we want to be happier or if we want to be around people that are helping us on our mental health journey, then we've got to choose those people wisely, too. And that kind of rolls into all aspects of our life.
Ty: Yeah, 100%.
Host/Lisa: Your mom has been a big part of your journey. What can you tell parents who might be listening how they can best check in with their kids?
Ty: I would say probably the most important thing is asking what they need and not just assuming. For at least me personally, I've found that I'm a lot more comfortable having that communicated through. Just like texting and some other things you might need. Could be space. Like, you might need space. You might need to not talk about it. It really just depends on the person. And I think it's important to just ask and just get a better understanding of what they need personally, because it's not the same for everybody.
Host/Lisa: That's an excellent point. And the other thing I think is that it's really easy when somebody asks you, how are you doing to put that mask on and say, I'm fine. But a question like, what do you need? You can't just say, I'm fine. You've got to think about something and you've got to answer back. And I feel like any answer to that question is going to be closer to the reality of what you're feeling. I think as parents, my hands in the air right now. I think sometimes we do assume we know what our kids need, or we try to direct them in the direction that we would need to take if we were in their shoes. And oftentimes as parents, we don't know. Right? We don't know. So I think that that is a really excellent thing to ask. What do you need? If you suspect that your child or your friend or your neighbor or your coworker is really struggling, what are some other questions that we can ask to help them even beyond what do you need?
Ty: I'd say, like, just asking to spend time together. I think it's just a very simple thing that you can do. Just like, being around the people that you care about is really healing in a lot of ways. And for me personally, that's what helps me a lot of the time is just going downstairs, watching a show with my dad, watching a show with the family, sitting upstairs, talking with the family, going hang out with a friend, just things like that. Really helpful.
Host/Lisa: So not even necessarily talking about what's going on inside, but just feeling connected. Is that correct?
Ty: Yeah. And it also serves as a nice little distraction from, say, what you're thinking about. You're able to change your environment, you're less in your head and you're more in the moment with these people you're with. Yeah. Generally, just like anything where you're changing your environment, whatever that is, just to get out of your head, really, just putting yourself in any different type of situation. Sometimes I'll just go for a drive, just go hang out with a friend. I'll go for a walk, bike ride, or if it's nighttime and I can't leave, it's like, oh, I'll play a game on my phone, I'll call a friend, I'll work on this design, something like that. Just anything where your mind is getting busy.
Host/Lisa: So it sounds like you've done a lot of work and you've really done a lot of self discovery to figure out what works for you. And mindfulness, being in the moment, I really, really like that. And being aware of how you're feeling at the same time. And, oh, I'm feeling this way. I really need to get out of my head. I'm going to go find something to do. I'm going to connect with somebody. So for those who may be at their lowest point, what advice can you give them?
Ty: I would say just the biggest thing is make sure that you're not suffering in silence. Communicate what you need in however way you can. If you're just putting on a mask, people aren't going to be able to help you and you're not going to be able to get support and get the help you need. I'm sure you can do a lot of self care, but lots of times when you're in that very low state, those are the people that you need to push you in the right directions to get out of that state.
Host/Lisa: If you could go back in time to about a year ago, your lowest point, what would you say to yourself?
Ty: Let your feelings out. Talk about it, don't hide it. Yeah, that was what led to everything. It's just not talking about it, not being open.
Host/Lisa: And my guess is feeling very alone at the same time, eh?
Ty: Yeah, very alone. Nobody on the planet knew what I was going through. Even my closest friends, my closest friends knew that I was struggling, but none of them knew. My family didn't know, nobody did.
Host/Lisa: Now that you have started being a little bit more open about it and creating these events, I bet you have lots of people that you know that have said, hey, I'm struggling too.
Ty: Yeah, I talk to lots of people all the time that just need somebody to talk to, whether that's friends or random people online, to be honest, every once in a while. But I don't know. I'm always more than happy to help anybody that needs someone to talk to.
Host Lisa: What would you like to see changed about mental health? Clearly, we have lots of work to do in our society, but where would you like to see that begin?
Ty: More talking about it, just the more the better. For understanding sake, specifically. Yeah. Especially for the workforce, because I feel like a lot of people's mental health are really damaged by the fact that they can't take time off work or they don't think it's okay to do to take time off work for their mental health, even though I know there are laws in place where you are able to take time off work. But I just feel like that's frowned upon a lot, too.
Host/Lisa: I agree. I think that we have a long ways to go in that area, and I think this circles right back to that very first thing that we talked about, that it's invisible, right? If somebody has crutches and they come into work and they've broken their leg and, oh, my gosh, let me get a chair. Let me get a stool for you. What do you need? How can we make your work day easier for you? But you don't see that even if people are open about their mental health, and frankly, there's still a very large stigma around that as well. So I absolutely agree that we need to make some big steps forward in that area. So tell us how your work with invisible mental health and the WECU event, how is that helping you?
Ty: It's helped me find purpose, and that purpose is helping people. So it's really a good feeling to know that what I'm doing has a meaning beyond myself and it is having a positive impact.
Host/Lisa: I think it's well documented that when we're hurting, helping is so cathartic. So Cathartic. And I don't think that there are many other words to really sum that up, but clearly doing this work is helping you.
Host/Lisa: So we've talked a little bit about this, but talking about mental health is so important beyond the work that you do, beyond things like my podcast. How do you think that we can create more conversation around mental health? Do you think we could even start in the schools?
Ty: I think in schools would be really good. I know there's a bit of that now, but I feel like that's really important, too, to have that be in schools more, because that's what's going to stick with people growing up like a newer generation of kids that are going to school and learning more about mental health and how to deal with it. That's setting up society to be way more open to talking about it and just everything in general with mental health.
Host/Lisa: Now, I know just from friends and so on that are teachers, that there are some programs, there are some speakers, there are things going on in the schools. Do you have any suggestions for other things that we could do?
Ty: I think it would be good to let kids know. In schools especially, it's okay to not be feeling okay in the sense that if they need to leave and if they need to go to a safe space or get out of the room, that's okay. Because I was talking at a girl's mental health group about, I think, two weeks ago now, and that was something they were actually asking me, is they were struggling because they at times needed to leave the room, but they didn't think that that was going to be okay. And they didn't want to get in trouble for asking even to leave the room because of their mental health. It's important to let them know that they can leave if they need to. And it's okay to talk about those issues with your teacher if it's something that's impacting you.
Host/Lisa: I think that there's lots of areas for growth, and creating a safe place would be a really good idea as well.
Ty: Yeah, 100% like what you were saying. I agree with the mentorship thing for sure. I was actually trying more just like brainstorming something along those lines just for everybody in general, just to have. The general idea was just having people sign up that are willing to just talk with people. They don't have to be professionals. It doesn't have to be anything super serious like that, but just people that are willing to talk with people that need it. And those people can sign up and be those people that are available for people to just talk to if they need someone too.
Host/Lisa: Like a peer support group, really?
Ty: Yeah, something like that.
Host/Lisa: Yeah, that would be really great to see that started in the schools. So the other half of this podcast is resilience. And when I created this podcast, not only did I want to interview inspiring people like you, but also I always want to end these interviews in a way that will really inspire our listeners. So I'd really like to know what resilience means to you and how you think you've become more resilient.
Ty: I think a big part of that is just thinking really big picture, because with myself specifically, I've found that people like, when you're struggling with anxiety and depression, it's really easy to fall into the pit of thinking, oh, I'm going to feel like this forever. This thing that sucks. Right now is going to be sucking forever. I'm going to be feeling like this forever. And now whenever situations come up where there's a lot of negative emotions, hard times, I just always remind myself that there are better days ahead. Life is so long. It's short, but it is very long. There are so many years ahead. And I guarantee this little thing that's really bringing me down right now isn't going to be bringing me down nearly as much or even at all in say even just like a year or a few months or even a month. It really helps me to just be aware of that.
Host/Lisa: Do you think it helps you to reflect back on the last year or so and say, man, I made it through that, I did that and I figured it out? Do you think that going through it and coming out the other side, so to speak, gives you a sense of strength and maybe some confidence as well?
Ty: Yeah, 100%.
Host/Lisa: I feel like every time you get through a really bad patch, you kind of learn how to get through the next really bad patch, if that makes sense, because you think, okay, I've done this before. I remember the Last time I was here. These are the tools I've got in my tool belt now, or these are the things that help me. And I think that somehow gives us a bit of confidence that we can get through it again.
Ty: Yeah, 100%.
Host/Lisa: So I've mentioned some of the things that you do. What's the best place for people to contact you with questions or places to follow you on social media?
Ty: If you have any mental health related questions, like just invisible mental health on Instagram and Facebook, or if you want to personally contact me, just Ty Strawford on Instagram would be good. Either or works.
Host/Lisa: And just for our listeners today, be well and stay resilient. Thank you so much, Ty. I really appreciate your time and I know that your story will inspire so many people. Oh, and one more thing.
If you're like me and you find it helpful to write things out, you will love the Oprah approved promptly journals, especially the peace of Mind Journal. I've been using these for years now. You can check them out at Bitly CalmingJournals. That's bit ly calmingJournals, by the way, when you purchase a promptly journal, you will be supporting this podcast. So thank you so much.