British comedian, writer and actor BJ Fox will be familiar to many in the international community for his work with the Stand-Up Tokyo comedy collective, but now Fox is teaming up with TELL to raise awareness and funds for one of the most serious social issues affecting us today – mental health.

As an ambassador for the charity, Fox is helping to promote TELL’s 2021 Step Up Challenge, which asks people all over Japan to take 21,081 steps – one for every life lost to suicide in Japan last year.

TELL invites teams of friends, colleagues, classmates and family members, as well as individuals, to pick a day between World Suicide Prevention Day (Sep 10) and World Mental Health Day (Oct 10) to complete the challenge. While the main focus is walking, participants are encouraged to be creative and interpret the challenge in a way that works for them and their situation.

“Actually – and sadly – my connection with TELL started with comedy as, unfortunately, a few years ago the Tokyo stand-up community lost one of its members to suicide,” says Fox. “This led our group to run some fundraising shows for TELL, and also led me to do a lot of self-questioning and to have a more personal connection with TELL.

“When a member of your communities dies by suicide, aside from grief, it can lead to a lot of guilt and anger too, and that certainly was the case with me. What could we have done? Were the signs there? Now I am an ambassador for TELL and try to raise awareness for the great support they provide our community where I can.”

The Pandemic’s Affect on Mental Health

Covid-19 has hit everyone in Japan hard, but there have been added challenges for many in the international community, cut off from loved ones overseas due to issues such as  travel restrictions and concern over spreading the virus. Fox is no exception.

“For me, and for a lot of the international community, being separated from our families in our home countries and not knowing when the situation will resolve is very distressing. My daughter was born early in the pandemic and it’s very sad for me to think she is now over one years old and has not met my mum,” he says candidly.

Suicide and mental health issues have long been taboo subjects in Japan, but Fox points out that the dialogue is improving, particularly after the loss of pro-wrestler and reality TV star Hana Kimura last December, as well as the recent public testimonies by tennis star Naomi Osaka and US gymnastic champion Simone Biles. However, there is still a lot of work ahead to remove stigma around these issues and to help people realize they can reach out and be heard.

Staying Connected

In a personal capacity, the pandemic has made Fox more aware than ever of the need to check in with people and stay connected. “So many of the structures we had – whether it be bumping into friends in the gym, at work, or at a comedy gig – have been taken away, and without realizing it, we lose contact with people. This seems like a good moment just to check in and reestablish those connections,” he says.

Throughout the pandemic, TELL has continued to provide critical information and resources via the website, social media, teletherapy and the Lifeline and Chat, even as many of their regular fundraising activities have had to go on hold. Funds raised from the 2021 Step Up Challenge will go towards providing a 24-hour crisis support service in Japan.

“I imagine most members of the international community have been affected by suicide to a greater or lesser degree, and I would encourage everyone to get involved, raises awareness in their social groups and workplaces, and support TELL as they strive to bring their services 24 hours, seven days a week,” says Fox.

For more information on the TELL 2021 Step Up Challenge, including how to register a team or donate:

Learn more about the TW Impact: Hike for Mental Health Awareness here