I spend almost as much time selecting the image at the top of my blog posts as I do in writing them. This time I was certain that I was going to select something serious and stark - something that would grab you, my dear reader, by the neck. Something that would stir feelings deep within you and compel you to take up the fight. And then I decided on simplicity.
The topic of this post is Bell Let's Talk Day and this year I am feeling bold. The call to action that I feel in my gut is particularly strong right now. You see, I feel that we are at a tipping point. We are so close to creating a shift in how we view mental illness. We are so close and yet still so far. Frankly, I feel impatient.
I recently conducted some highly scientific (!) research. I asked my fellow Partners for Mental Health colleagues to answer these questions:
1. Do you feel that awareness of mental health issues in Canada has increased or remained the same over the past couple of years?
2. Do you feel that stigma has decreased or remained the same in the past couple of years?
3. What events or campaigns have positively impacted advocacy for mental health issues?
The results were unanimous.
Awareness of mental illness in Canada has increased in the past few years. Yes, more people are talking about it. It may be whispered or shared in confidence, but people seem to be talking more about these illnesses. That's in great part due to the efforts of the annual Bell Let's Talk campaign, the openness of athletes and public figures like Olympian Clara Hughes, and, very sadly, because of the death by suicide of the great Robin Williams.
Robin Williams, in particular, got the world talking. If you made the mistake of reading social media following his death you would have seen a slew of judgemental comments about how selfish he was and how he threw his wealth and success away. But people also started to question what they had believed to be true about mental illness. If one of the world's most talented people could be in pain and choose to take his life, perhaps there is more to this illness than I thought? Maybe depression is more than just being sad. Could it be?
So how do we make the shift from talking about mental illness to actually feeling empathy towards those who experience it? Do you have to experience it yourself to understand that pain is involved? I don't think so. I have never had cancer but I recognize that someone experiencing it will likely feel physical and emotional pain. I have never broken my arm but I understand that it probably hurts. So why is it such a leap for people to make that connection when it comes to mental illness?
As part of their 2015 campaign, Bell has introduced five simple ways to end stigma:
1. Language Matters
2. Be Kind
3. Educate Yourself
4. Listen and Ask
5. Talk About It
I think that these are all great suggestions. But there is one thing missing: YOU. Without you and your commitment to eradicating stigma, we have nothing. And if I could add a sixth suggestion it would be this: Be Brave.
On January 28, 2015 and beyond will you be a little bit brave with me? Together, we can start a conversation that matters.
P.S. Visit the Bell Let's Talk site for more details about the campaign and how you can make a difference! Here are some interesting resources and article about mental illness:
Four Things Leaders Need to Know About Mental Illness
Are You Depressed and Don't Know It?
11 Habits of People With Concealed Depression
Persistent Stigma, Skepticism About Mental Illness Causes Real Harm