Many Tokyo residents may not be aware of this, but help and counseling services are available in the city, for those in need.

Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) is a not-for-profit organization ‘dedicated to providing world-class, effective support and counseling services to Japan’s international community’ and helping to address the country’s mental health care needs. In March 2006 TELL was officially recognised as an NPO in Japan.

We spoke to Jonathan Kushner of Kreab Gavin Anderson about his involvement in TELL and mental health issues in Japan, and found out a little about TELLs recent fundraising efforts.

Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be involved with the local government and business scene here in Japan?

Originally from New York, I am a long term resident of Japan. Currently, I am Partner with Kreab Gavin Anderson, where I consult on communications and public affairs. I have previously held regional roles with AIG’s General Insurer Chartis, and Microsoft, and I am an active member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Jonathan Kushner

Jonathan Kushner of Kreab Gavin Anderson

You were appointed Partner at Kreab Gavin Anderson in Tokyo last year; three months down the road, you took on a leading role on TELL’s board – what were the challenges you faced?

TELL has been around for nearly four-decades in Japan, but at the moment it faces some new challenges as the nature of the international community transforms.

In particular, use of TELL services continues to increase, and we need more volunteers to support the Life Line service. To address this, we are working to educate people about the importance of mental health, and to make our voice heard more across the Japanese community.

The latter is key in that, of the more than 6,000 calls that we field annually, a growing percentage come from Japanese nationals seeking support with issues of acclimatization to Japan upon returning from living abroad, those in intercultural relationships, and the like.

What is TELL’s primary function?

TELL is a non-profit that provides support and counseling throughout Japan, and it is the largest organization in Japan that provides Western-style mental health care services.

Our main activities are free, anonymous telephone counseling via the Life Line service (9 am – 11 pm, 365 days a year), and professional face-to-face counseling and psychotherapy via the Counseling Center. TELL also hosts talks, workshops, training and other events to educate and increase awareness of mental health issues in Japan.

The Life Line is staffed by highly-trained volunteers, and TELL is committed to maintaining the anonymity and confidentiality of both our volunteers fielding calls, and those calling in.

At the same time, TELL’s Counseling Center is the only accredited counseling center in Japan staffed by licensed, Western-trained professionals.

What is the general public’s perception of mental health issues in Japan?

The real challenge is not unique to Japan, and that is the stigma against seeking help for mental health issues. Some judge it a sign of weakness, when in fact it is just another important form of maintaining one’s health and happiness.

TELL helps people on everything from adjustment to a new job or culture, to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief and loss, insomnia, relationships, stress, substance abuse, suicide, and trauma. Many of these are issues anyone could face, at any time. The real challenge is educating people to know that it is normal and healthy to seek help when issues arise.

We heard there are some charitable events coming up that will impact this part of our world in a major way; can you give us some details?

As a non-profit, TELL’s work is made possible through the support of sponsors, partners and donors. On October 19, we will host the single most significant event of our fundraising year, the 17th Annual TELL Connoisseurs’ Auction (see below for details.)

Tokyo English Lifeline logo

The Tokyo English Lifeline logo

What is your vision for TELL in Japan?

TELL has transformed over the years to continuously ensure that it is meeting the needs of the international community. Now, as it marks its 40th anniversary, and with more demand for our services than ever before, we have a vision for the next step for the organization.

With the support of volunteers, sponsors, partners and donors, we aim to expand the accessibility of our services – both geographically, and available service hours.

We welcome the participation of volunteers, sponsors, partners and donors – really, anyone interested in getting involved and helping to promote mental health in Japan.

17th Annual TELL Connoisseurs’ Auction

A fundraiser centered around tasty wines, all for a good cause that is often not addressed directly: mental health in Japan.

Proceeds from the Connoisseurs’ Auction, to be held at the Australian Embassy on Friday, October 19, will ensure that TELL can continue to provide support and services to foreigners in Japan, maintaining its nearly 40-year legacy of promoting mental health and wellbeing.

The TELL Connoisseur’s Auction is expected to attract around 400 guests, who will be able to bid on over fifty lots of premium wine, extravagant getaways, and exceptional goods and services in both a live auction and a silent auction. The event will also feature a lavish menu and fine wines from some of Tokyo’s top caterers and wine distributors, accompanied by entertainment from talented artists from Australia and Japan.

If you would like to attend the auction, have a look at the TELL website, where you can find out more.

Interview by Mary Rudow and additional writing by Vivian Morelli