In my family, the incidence of mental health problems runs high. My mother and her twin sister are both bipolar. On my father's side, one of my aunts was bipolar and two of my cousins are schizophrenic. While some people dispute the idea that mental illness can be hereditary -- and I, too, believe in the importance of social and environmental causes -- you can nonetheless see that the odds were pretty high that someone else in my immediate family might get hit over the head with it, too
I felt like I was daring myself to cross some arbitrary line in the sand, and once I did, there would be no turning back. Canadians' perceptions of who I was, and certainly their knowledge of my life story, would be forever altered. Even if only a few dozen people heard my story, it felt big to share personally and publicly.
In mental illness, we are constantly mixing apples and oranges. The causes are not the same and neither are the treatments. When we lump them together we create more confusion. And when there is lack of clarity, we tend to fill the gaps in knowledge with myths, superstitions, and mistaken attributions. That's when the quacks come out.
This is a time when sharing that you haven't been able to get out of bed for the past three days because of crippling depression is not only acceptable, it's appreciated by all who know the same searing pain of the illness. These days leading up to Bell Let's Talk day on January 27th comprise a massive support system unlike any other seen throughout the year.
Bell Let's Talk Day inspired active online engagement, attracted celebrity endorsements and the attention of media, all the while raising vital charitable dollars. But a one-day social media event is not enough to significantly move the needle away from ignorance, fear and silence. After all, what happens the next day, and the day after that? Social change requires more than a social media plan. It requires a long-term sustainable strategy. Because in our content-rich, highly distracted world, passion is sometimes overrun by profit, causes are sidestepped by things like limited overhead and the desire to stay current fuels an unyielding need to move onto the next big thing.
That's the thing about depression. When you're in the thick of it, you don't realize how far wrong things have gone; which is why it's important for all of us to look out for each other, and to watch for those subtle cues and clues that something is amiss with the people we love. It's hard to ask someone "Are you in trouble?" or "Do you need help?" and even "Are you OK?"
We need progressive organizations to build off the publicity of Let's Talk and call for a new day: Let's Act. When it feels like the snow will never melt and spring will never come, let's commit ourselves to act. Let's Act and demand more funding to mental health supports, including the improved public funding of mental health doctors, treatments and facilities. Let's Act and reject Stephen Harper's attempt to criminalize people with mental health struggles: help and rehabilitation rather than solitary confinement and life-long prison sentences.
Bell Let's Talk day is about hope. It gives you a chance to take off your mask and talk about your pain. It allows you to mourn the loss of who you were and to say, "It's okay I'm like this now." It cracks open the darkness for a minute and gives you hope by letting you realize there are people who've made it out to the other side.
You may have noticed that your social media feeds have been inundated with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. That's because Bell Let's Talk day is on Wednesday, January 28. We need workplaces that value their employees' mental health. Employers need to lead by example by recognizing workplace signs of undiagnosed depression, such as difficulty making decisions, decreased productivity, inability to concentrate and any unusual increases in errors in work, just to name a few.
To really nail the concept of what mental illness is and how it affects both those who live with it and those who live with us, here are a few tips to guide in what I hope will be an ever-growing trend to encourage communication and break down the stereotypes. So without further ado, here are things to refrain from saying to someone with mental illness.
In order to further be part of a movement which strives to promote the existence of mental illnesses, I have to be able to speak my truth. Not just write it. Not hide behind my laptop. But say it out loud, and not say it with a smirk and a wink, and a jolly, "I'm crazy." This isn't helping anyone. I'm only further promoting the notion that mental illness needs to remain in the closet. Until people can accept that there is stigma, those of us who do suffer in silence; those of us who are too embarrassed to say out loud that we have an illness -- we need to refrain from using a vocabulary which only serves to further set back the progress.
It's the most wonderful time of the year for Canadian mental health advocates! Wednesday, January 28 is Bell Let's Talk Day. On Bell Let's Talk Day, conversations will be taking place online, in homes, schools, and offices across the country. All wonderful, but, will you be participating in these discussions by sharing your personal experiences? Many people won't.
Nobody wants to be Ebenezer. But during the holidays, when all are merry, and my eyes are watering with the unexplained tears of depression -- which has not left me, but has only fooled those around me -- the oft-repeated, "What's wrong now? You seemed fine yesterday," only serves to make the demons in my head cackle a little louder.
Consider this. No one makes a decision to suddenly develop psychotic delusions or the mania of bipolar disorder or the crushing darkness of depression. These are illnesses that just happen as do other illnesses like MS or Parkinson's or rheumatoid arthritis. They are not our choice and they are not welcome but they happen and we have to contend with them as best we can.
Talking about mental illness is difficult. I get it. But what is even more difficult is people saying they accept me for who I am and then deserting me. As soon they hear something good has happened to me they're the first people to want to celebrate with me, yet they don't want to hear about the dark side of mental illness.
Earlier this year Bell Let's Talk Day raised an incredible 4.8 million dollars for mental health initiatives across Canada. This is a great campaign, and I love how people in the spotlight come forward to discuss their personal mental health journeys with the public. I think it's great celebrities and stars talk about mental health issues they struggle with, but I don't think it's great how much attention is given to just the celebrity and not the mental illness itself. So why do we not treat these people, or ourselves, like heroes? We are the ones who have to deal with the mental health system, the waiting time, the unknowns, the ups and downs.