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Volunteer Spotlight: Mirei


Mirei was born in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, and briefly lived in Saitama prefecture, before spending six years being schooled in English in Foster City, near San Francisco. Upon returning to Japan, she attended public school, and entered Junior High School and High School with other returnees. She is currently in her third year at International Christian University, majoring in Sociology.

How did you first find out about TELL?

My counsellor from ICU introduced me to this organization. There was an assignment in one of my classes to interview a worker that is in a career you were interested in, and I was really interested in mental health and supporting people of the international community. I had a chance to interview [outreach coordinator] Selena Hoy, and that’s when I got to know what TELL is, and what their mission is.

Why did you want to get involved with TELL and this cause?

Personally, I have experienced some depression and panic disorder, and I’m still trying to recover from these. Mental health is something that is really close to my heart. Throughout my journey, I’ve had a lot of people supporting me – that starts from my counsellor, family, my doctor – so I wanted to get out there, and give back to a community because I’ve experienced this support. I know the importance of support and community, and I simply wanted to give back what I’ve received throughout the years. I’ve experienced a bit of time in the United States, so I wanted to use my English skills in a certain way, and I like interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds, so TELL was the perfect place.

You have volunteered at a couple of our band nights, our pub quiz, last year’s Tokyo Tower Climb, and Connoisseurs’ Auction. Which of those events do you think have had the biggest impact?

The first event [the band night] had a big impact on me – I never knew there was such a big community of international residents and people from different backgrounds in Tokyo, and I was surprised how everyone gets together. That atmosphere within that pub [What The Dickens, Ebisu] –  I think it’s quite special. I kind of felt like the minority appearance-wise, and I hadn’t felt that in a really long time, and it kind of made me see a tiny glimpse of how it could be living as a minority within Japanese society. It was a great opportunity to step outside the Japanese bubble and interact with people from different backgrounds.

At the Tokyo Tower Climb, there were a lot of people who actually didn’t know about TELL, and there was one person who asked what the organization is all about. The openness to the public gets people involved, those who aren’t necessarily involved with the international community, so it was great to introduce TELL to those people.

Could you tell us about some of the people you’ve met since volunteering?

I’ve met a lot of people, and the first thing I want to say is they’re so nice! Everyone is so open and so welcoming – whenever I’m alone, they let me in their conversations.

Do you think that these events give a starting point to opening up conversations about mental health?

The question I always get asked is why do you know TELL, and that question is an opportunity to explain my past, and my own mental health.

What is your favourite memory of volunteering with TELL?

During the Tokyo Tower Climb, we had this board for people to write messages for people who are struggling with mental issues, and I really liked how many people wrote a lot of nice messages, and when that was all up on the board, I felt like there is a lot of support in this community. For myself, someone who is struggling with mental issues, I was encouraged to carry on, and realized that I wasn’t alone.

What is something that you wish people knew about TELL or mental health?

There is an image that TELL is only for foreign people, but those that can speak English can use the Lifeline, and there is also counseling available in Japanese. I would like people to know that the service is open to everyone.

I’ve heard that one in four people will experience mental issues at some point in their lifetime, but it’s considered as a taboo – it’s not something you feel comfortable talking about with other people. It’s such a shame, and it’s so common. People should understand that it’s okay to open up to someone – it’s okay to have emotions. Especially for my guy friends, who feel as though it is considered feminine to open up about your feelings – before we are whatever gender, we are human beings, and human beings are supposed to be emotional. I wish society would change for all of us to make it more comfortable to talk about our health in general.

What do you think can be done in the future to help raise awareness and support for mental health?

I think what TELL is doing, especially with events and outreach, is an example that any organization could follow. I’ve realized the impact of the awareness events, such as the Tokyo Tower Climb. It doesn’t have to always be serious, and all about mental health – that should be the foundation, but on top of that, I think it’s amazing how TELL find a way to open up to people who aren’t necessarily interested in those topics. As a student, who is privileged enough to have that platform, I think it’s important as someone who is involved with this organization to pass on the information to classmates, family, and friends. Sharing your personal experience is very important – when you read it on paper, there’s a kind of distance, but when you interact with a person who has actually experienced these things, you don’t feel the same distance.

What are your plans for the future?

That is something that I ask myself a lot! I want to support people in a certain way. I feel happiest being with people, interacting with people, and just trying to make their lives a bit better, so I’m definitely looking for a way to walk together with the people, support each other in particular ways, and give back to society.

You will be interning with TELL for a couple of months, before studying abroad for a year – how do you feel that your experience volunteering with TELL has helped you to prepare for these next steps in your life?

Coming to the events has pushed me outside my comfort zone – usually I would say no to any invitations, especially when I’m alone – I’m scared of new environments, and it takes me a little bit of time to warm up to them. However, in my first event I had a great time – I talked to a lot of people, and it made me realize that I can do new things, and, as I participated in more events, I got a little bit more confident!

What would you like to tell someone else who is thinking of donating or volunteering with TELL?

You should do it, definitely! Even if you don’t have much confidence – the community is so warm and welcoming. TELL itself is such a great organization – they are here for you whenever you need support. I can’t really think of another organization that is so warm and supportive! It’s a great way to meet new people, especially if you’re interested in mental health and would like to support the community.