Hi, Brendaya! Tell us about yourself and what are your pronouns?
My name is Brendaya, but everyone calls me ‘B’. My pronouns are she/her and I was born and raised in Arizona but I now reside in Tokyo, Japan. I am currently getting my master's degree in Social Work from Arizona State University but my undergrad was in Criminal Justice from Northern Arizona University. I got into social work after my undergrad when I was hired on as a Parent Aide to help parents reunify with their children that were taken into state custody. After working as a Parent Aide I was hired by the Department of Child Safety as an investigator and spent two years with the department before moving on to work as an adoption specialist. I noticed a trend in mental health and substance use in all three jobs and wanted to make greater contributions which is why I decided to go back to school and pursue my graduate degree in Social Work. After graduation, I hope to find a job that will incorporate both skills learned from my undergrad and graduate degree such as Juvenile Probation or doing social work in the jails. I myself struggle with anxiety, and depression, and was diagnosed with trichotillomania my freshman year of college so I have always been able to relate and connect with clients on my caseloads.
HearMe leans into peer-to-peer support to foster greater empathy and compassion within each of us. How did you become a Listener for HearMe and how long have you been with us?
I became a listener for HearMe four months ago because I needed a second field placement for my master's degree in social work. HearMe allowed me to work from the comfort of my own space all while being able to help people from all over the world and walks of life. No other placement would have been able to give me the same opportunity.
Since August is considered Back to School month, what do you think are some unique mental health challenges for people returning to education in light of gun violence, the pandemic, and debates over curricula?
Growing up, I remember August being an exciting time as I got to go back to school shopping, pick my favorite colored folders, see my friends and participate in extracurricular activities. Sadly, this is not the case anymore for America, and August has now turned into a month of fear and worries along with the rest of the school year. There are many mental health challenges for teachers, parents, and children returning to education in light of gun violence, the pandemic, and debates over curricula. Since the rise in gun violence, the continuing pandemic, and changes in curricula there has also been a rise in depression, anxiety, and fear of social interactions with others. Children are also falling behind academically due to some of their schooling being online and parents are unable to keep up with what their children are learning due to work. Teachers are in fear that there will be a day they’ll have to shield their class from violence and the possibility of them having to carry a weapon on them.
What has your experience been as a Listener for HearMe?
Being a listener for HearMe these past four months has been a wonderful experience and has given me the skills and opportunity for growth personally and professionally. I have been able to evaluate what my boundaries in life are and how to maintain healthy boundaries since I am a people pleaser. I've also been able to interact with people that are different from me whether that be their culture, religion, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. I have also taken these interactions as an opportunity to learn/research as well. It was hard at first not giving advice and just listening because giving advice is almost like an automatic response, but now I am able to just listen to what someone has to say.
Do you have a memorable moment with HearMe yet? If so, can you talk briefly about what was going on, how you supported the person, and how you felt afterward?
I have had a few memorable moments with HearMe thus far and I would like to briefly talk about my first memorable moment. I had a chatter that was not having the best of days and needed someone to vent to. The more they opened up the more they realized how much they kept from their friends and family who could not relate or provide the support that they needed. I was able to be there for this chatter and talk through possible suggestions and give them resources. This chatter is now going to therapy regularly and thanked me for being there for them through the process without any judgment. When this chatter said “without any judgment” it reminds me that people with mental health and disabilities are still being stigmatized to the point it hurts them to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need it the most.
From your point of view, what is the importance of HearMe in the current state of the world?
The importance of HearMe in the current state of the world is that it gives people the opportunity to express their feelings and be heard without any judgment and anonymously. We are more likely to open up to someone we don't know when our true identity is not exposed because we are not risking someone thinking less of us that we personally know. Many scary changes are happening in this world with politics and law but HearMe is able to support the population in its effects the best as we can.
What is something about mental health stigma you’d like to see change?
The stigma surrounding mental health has been around for a long time and although the United States is making progress mental health is still looked down upon. I would like the mental health stigma to change in a way that people are no longer ashamed or embarrassed by their mental health and for the general public not to assume that because someone has a diagnosis they are automatically dangerous. Lastly, I would like to see mental health talked about frequently and for it not to be a topic that should be avoided at all costs. Opening up about mental health will allow people to be more open with getting/asking for help.
What do you want your legacy to be within the mental health sphere?
In the mental health sphere, I would like to be known as someone that is trustworthy, easy to talk to, nonjudgemental, and have nothing but the client's best interest in mind. I want to also be known as someone who takes the time to research my client's culture, traditions, religion, etc that way we are both on the same page. Lastly, I want a legacy of being able to stand up and advocate for those that are unable to do so.
When your time with HearMe comes close, what impact do you hope to have made? As a Listener, how do you practice self-care?
When my time with HearMe comes to a close I hope that I was able to make an impact on both listeners and chatters. For listeners, I hope they really take the time to get to know their chatters and listen to what their needs are and what they would like out of life. It is okay to listen to someone without giving advice. As far as self-care, I recently had to change up my routine due to moving to Japan, but every two weeks I get my nails done, I workout, and go to temples and shrines.
What brings you joy these days?
As mentioned before, I moved to Japan eight months ago and it was a difficult transition for me not knowing what to expect and being surrounded by a different culture than what I am used to. Typically back home in America Joy for me was spending time with my family and friends on a regular basis and going to the spa, but I have now figured out what brings me joy in this different environment and it is spending time in nature with my husband and trying something new that I would have never done in America such as playing tennis, golfing, and learning American Sign Language.
Any final words of wisdom or notes on the power of empathy you want to share?
In order to be a supportive listener, one must have empathy because it will allow you to connect with your chatter. It is okay to let them vent without advice given because they may not have someone that they can go to let alone trust. It is possible to let someone feel their feelings out without trying to offer quick fixes to their pain.