Today is #WorldHelloDay and so I thought it only appropriate that today’s #MentalHealthMonday post focus on the power of “hello.”

“Hello” is more than the utterance of simple greeting. In a world that’s engulfed in conflict and divisiveness, a HELLO represents an outreached hand, an invitation to open a dialogue with someone instead of drawing a line in the sand.

In a society whose preferred communication channel is text messaging, memes, and Snapchat, a verbal HELLO is a doorway to a real connection with another human being instead of an impersonal Poke, Like or Up Vote.

Every day – but today in particular – I encourage you to look people in the eye and say “HELLO” when you’re standing in line at the coffee shop, in a physician’s waiting room or while studying at the library.  I suspect that many of those HELLOs today may be returned with a shy smile, a blank stare or maybe you’ll be completely ignored. But that’s OK.  Saying HELLO has great power for you and for those you’re reaching out to even if you don’t see the results immediately.

The Power of HELLO for You and Others

Saying HELLO helps you.

Making a habit of saying HELLO to people changes your disposition; it opens your eyes, mind, and heart to those around you.  Like most people, you’re probably suffering from stimulus overload to some degree thanks to social media, advertising, longer work days, hyper-connected devices, and so on. You owe it to yourself to re-connect with people through eye-to-eye contact and a warm HELLO.Avoiding personal connections creates a myopia of sorts, it changes your perception of the world and those around you. Saying HELLO more frequently to those you come across throughout the day re-establishes your connection to your family, friends, and community. Doing so broadens your perspective, makes you more amenable to being approached by others when you’re in need, and, in general, makes you a more empathetic person

Finally, it makes you more approachable, which, in turn, increases your circle of friends, personal connections, opportunities for love, etc. Your life becomes richer and full of greater possibilities.  Like the studies that show employees who smile more have happier and more satisfied customers, people who reach out with a HELLO to others are more likely to have stronger personal connections because they’re perceived as being more open to listening.

Saying HELLO helps others.

Receiving a HELLO – especially and unexpected one – immediately disarms the mental and emotional barriers people erect to protect themselves in what many perceive a cold, competitive, and dangerous world.You see this often in busy metropolises where people are so wrapped up in their phones, their work or the general hustle and bustle of life. Habitually, they walk around with their eyes and heads down so often than they’ve isolated themselves from their community.

You also see this in secondary and post-secondary schools where being open, friendly, and personable is often seen as a weakness. Remaining stoic and isolated is often a student’s preventative medicine from being labelled as weak or weird. Online bullying and trolling is making it even more normal for people to remain isolated and protective.

You can change that by saying HELLO. If you don’t receive a positive response – or any response for that matter – you’ve still done well. For those people who don’t respond to HELLOs from friends or passersby, a seed is planted. For them, every HELLO is another reminder that they’re not alone and that others do care, it chips away at barriers they’ve erected.  Those seeds will germinate and eventually break through, allowing the recipient to become open to receiving – and maybe even replying to – a HELLO.

HELLO and Students

For the last few years I’ve been traveling extensively to speak with communities, students, and families about the importance of mental health on school campuses. The rate of reported cases of mental illness such as anxiety and depression among students is continuing to grow, which is a contributing factor to the escalating number of suicide attempts and completed suicides among students globally.

Worse, we’ve learned that more people who suffer from depression do not seek help or talk about it for fear of being stereotyped as weak, different or “crazy.” All of the fears I mention above start as students and become progressively worse as we move on into adulthood.

And so to students I reiterate my call to say HELLO to more people, more often. For every one of you feeling isolated, alone or different, there’s 5 more out there who invariably feel the same way. The way you wish someone would say HELLO to you, there are many who wish you’d say HELLO to them.  We are not islands in this life despite our best efforts to establish that distance from others, from connecting, from feeling.

“HELLO” is a conversation starter. If not today or tomorrow, at some point a HELLO will start a conversation that may end up saving a life. And that life may even be your own.   

So if you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to choose today, #WorldHelloDay to make it a habit of saying HELLO to those you encounter. You and your community will all be better off for it.