Sometimes, the most amazing conversations happen when you are open to them. It enabled me to realize the acronym STARTS and how Brent and I were on a journey together. He struggled with mental health issues and found his outlet through climbing peaks. He was in his element and his challenges evaporated. I always share a quote and picture to start the lecture and I started with, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but rather the number of times your breath is taken away.” I would share the picture of Brent and his story…well, 8 hours later, I learned the news that he passed away doing what he loved, climbing. I was devastated. Where does my story begin with Brent?
It was a normal working day when someone walked in to my office, shut the door and slouched in the seat and said: “What am I doing here?” Brent was referring to being at our business school as he was struggling with his mental health and had just dropped 3 of his 4 classes. He was not shy to share that he was going through challenges and felt that no one would hire anyone with a generally low GPA in business. I faced Brent and said, “Brent, you are trying to fit into the degree, how about we see how the degree fits Brent. What is important to you? He looked at me with a puzzled look and said, “Mental health is important. I want to help others who are struggling.” Together, we then focused on the solution over the problem and Brent created the Mental Health Club at SFU and suddenly we saw membership rise. He started to find his outlet in hiking and trail running and that turned into climbing after he met another one of his advisors in Mike Schuach. Mike is an avid climber and through their friendship and brotherhood, they were on many adventures. Brent went on to be the convocation speaker at graduation and realized that it was not his marks that defined him but that he defined himself. I sat at that graduation ceremony with a smile and a few tears as I reflected on this wonderful young man’s transformation.
My conversations with Brent were always deep and thoughtful and he supported me on a number of events. Brent was talking about mental health issues before it became a huge topic. He was a pioneer much like his climbing. Mike and I even did an event focusing on mental health and had Brent as the centre point as we focused on building outlets for mental health. The event was, ‘Your Climb to Mental Health’. Through my interactions with Brent, I built an acronym called STARTS and how it STARTS with you. If you are going through difficulties or supporting someone with mental health challenges, STARTS is a helpful tool but there is deeper work that needs to be done. It just scratches the surface.
STARTS stands for – Support – Trust – Appreciation – Reflection – Talk – Strength and a tool for mental health support and awareness.
• Support – There is a need to create a supportive environment between the individual who has challenges and the person who might be able to support them. Support is built by being present for each other, not judging and making comments that don’t resonate with the person going through mental health issues. Just be present so the person feels supported. It might be a bumpy ride at times but together we will overcome the waves.
• Trust – Out of support, trust emerges and the person who needs help through their difficulties feel that they can trust you with their feelings and emotions. Trust is critical in the process because you build towards the trust. Brent and I had established a friendship prior to this and he could come to my office because of the trust and knowing that I was there for him.
• Appreciation – When the waves of mental health hit, we forget to appreciate the small things around us. Appreciation is grasping on to the small things that can help be our life jacket through the waves. Appreciation is appreciating things through the next point. The appreciation Brent had was for the outdoors and it helped him to find his inner peace.
• Reflection – Only by reflecting do you add significance to appreciation. Appreciation may stop you and you feel there is something special and only through reflection do you realize the importance of what is important to you. Again, this is a life jacket and not a solution to help you through the challenging times. Only by reflecting, Brent could find his outlet and help so many others with their struggles in life.
• Talk – It is so important that a space is created where conversations can emerge and the dialogue is a release valve for the person who is going through their difficulties. Brent and I had created a space where we could hold our conversations and whether it was in my office or out on a bench facing the water, we could talk about life and our conversation was free flowing of laughter, deep discussions and some tears at times.
• Strength – Only by START do we come to a point where strength emerges and the waves become a little more bearable. Together we can move forward and emerge. Will there be setbacks, absolutely but you weather the storm together.
STARTS is only that, a start and there is a long road but I know I was willing to walk that road with Brent. Not once did I carry him. Not once was he ever a burden. Not once did I ever feel overwhelmed. What Brent did was find an outlet and I highly encourage everyone to have an outlet. It could be yoga, walks, cooking, dancing or anything that matters to you. For me, it is my writing and woodworking. It provides me the peace I need. Through his problems emerged his opportunity to be change and not a bystander in life.
Brent impacted so many people in beautiful ways. I am richer for knowing him. He wanted to change the world and he actually did. Not through his eyes…rather though the eyes of the people he was present with. People saw the world differently because Brent was part of it and he died doing what mattered to him. His life was around, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but rather by the times your breath is taken away.” Every peak and opportunity, he sought out the times his breath was taken away by magnificence, beauty and friendships. You will be missed my friend.
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