Sunday 12 January 2014

"The Power of Words"

#inspiration from the #dalailama.  #quote #strength #struggle #hope #wisdom #efuneral

January is an important month for mental health advocates in Canada. Well, every month, every day in fact, is important for us - but January is special. Three years ago Bell Canada established the Let's Talk campaign. Bell isn't asking you or me for money - they'll look after that part themselves; they are well on their way to their $50 million dollar commitment. Bell is asking us to do something really simple: talk.

Is talking about mental illness simple? For me, it's pretty easy. But I have been talking about depression and anxiety for a long time. I have had a lot of practice at it. For others it's not so easy. It's not simple at all.

I have seen a shift in the perception and understanding of mental illness in the 20 or so years since I was first diagnosed. When I first began to struggle with depression I knew of a family member who had been diagnosed and perhaps a family friend or two. But that was about it. I certainly had no idea if any of my friends or colleagues were ill. Almost nobody admitted to it.

Admitted. What a word to use to describe disclosing an illness, huh? I recently read an article by Shaun Proulx that resonated with me deeply. In the article, Mental Health: Express Yourself Don't Repress Yourself, Proulx spoke about the choice of words and the use of the word admitted. When you admit to something, it's not usually a good thing. A thief admits to stealing a car. A student admits to cheating on a test. Words are powerful. Words can perpetuate stigma.

When we have an illness, regardless of what type, we should not feel ashamed. Sadly, there are far too many people in this world who are still ashamed and embarrassed to have a mental illness. More people will talk about it than they did 20 years ago or even five years ago. But that's still not good enough. I don't want people to just 'admit' to having a mental illness. I want people to feel comfortable acknowledging and openly talking about illnesses that affect their lives.

So how do we start the conversation? I have some ideas about that but I think I will save them for my next post coming very soon. In the meantime, think about the words you associate with mental illness. Can a person have an illness? Can a person be an illness? We often say that Joe is bi-polar. Do we say that Jane is cancer? Why? What is the difference? Hmmm.

Words can perpetuate stigma - yes. But they can also help us to eliminate stigma. Which side do you want to be on?

KB xo

P.S. PLEASE! If you haven't taken the Partners for Mental Health Pledge yet, please do so. It only takes a second and one click of your mouse to commit to supporting the improvement of mental health in Canada.


  1. Thanks for another post. I read some article that I wish I had kept that talked briefly about the number of deaths with this and with aids that are due to the stigma attached and the fact that many are too afraid to talk about their issue.

  2. Words are very powerful. Admitting to an illness shouldn't be the way it works. I am also gay... "coming out of the closet" are the words used in that context. In my view they are just as bad, and just as relevant to mental health. Closets are not just for gay folks... they are for anyone that has something about them that they feel shame about. Talking, thinking about the words we use, remembering that people are people no matter what is going on with them, having compassion... all things that I think will help. So lets keep doing those things.

    Thanks for the post. I sincerely hope it gets people thinking and talking.


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