BY ALYSSA PARKHILL
Chloe Chow, co-founder of Vent Over Tea and a Bell Lets Talk initiative wants to lend an ear to anyone who needs to vent.
“The purpose of Vent Over Tea is to provide an accessible platform for anyone to connect to another human being in a judgment-free conversation,” says Chow, who lives in Montreal. “We offer a one-on-one service as well as community events that aim to offer another alternative to having authentic, open conversations about mental health in a supportive community environment.”
Vent Over Tea all began with Chow and a fellow McGill psychology student being tired of the lack of accessibility to mental health services on their campus. They decided to take matters into their own hands and create a supportive and accessible service for those who are in need to talk to someone without judgment and is confidential.
They developed a training program with a holistic health and educational psychologist to train their volunteer “listeners” on how to guide the conversations with empathy.
Chow’s own mental health battles motivated her to start the service.
“I first started experiencing depression during the transition between my last year of high school into CEGEP. At the time, I turned inwards and wasn’t coping very well,” says Chow. “During bouts of major depression, I become very withdrawn. I don’t feel like myself. I am normally someone who craves and enjoys social interaction but when I am depressed, I become exhausted and overwhelmed by even the smallest social engagements.”
Chow says one major turning point was when she quit her job two years ago at a psychology clinic to travel and live Panama. “I spent a year living in a flow without plans, going from one opportunity to the next in Central and South America as well as the U.S.A,” says Chow. She used these experiences to reconnect to nature and mindfulness which made a drastic improvement in her mental wellness.
With the experiences and journeys Chow has been through, she became a Bell Lets Talk initiative to tell her story and help others.
“When the campaign went public last January, it was a very weird time in my life. Although I’ve been very active in promoting mental health awareness and self-care,” says Chow. “I hadn’t been very public about my own personal battles with depression and anxiety. A lot of people in my life actually had no idea that I had been struggling over the years until the campaign went live. It was a great exercise in vulnerability, I’ve never felt so exposed.”
“It’s strange to become a public figure for having depression. It’s not something you ever dream of when you’re younger. But the experience has showed me how powerful it is to present yourself authentically to the world and be supported in doing so. There was so much love and support from both friends and complete strangers. So many ‘me toos’. It’s shown me how even if we don’t all have a mental illness, we all experience mental health in some capacity,” says Chow.
Vent Over Tea began in Montreal and is now underway in Calgary.
“If I can contribute to making people feel more able to have open conversations about the full spectrum of the human experience, from the good to the ugly, then I feel like I am making a positive contribution.”
According to the Vent Over Tea website, “the listeners are volunteers that are carefully selected and given extensive training in active listening and mental health first aid. Most of them are pursuing careers in psychology, social work, medicine or community service.”
You select and time and a café to meet up with and a “listener” selected best to fit your needs, who then emails you to confirm place and time.