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5 Ways to Fight the Stigma Around Mental Illness

01/28/2015 11:15 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

The best way to break away from stigma around depression and suicide is to talk about it.

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This post was originally published by Charlotte Ottaway in The Reply.

One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Two-thirds of those who struggle will not seek treatment, due to fear of judgment or rejection.

Every year, initiatives like Bell Let's Talk help us fight the stigma around mental illness and remind us how important it is to have these conversations. We've made some tremendous progress in the way we talk about mental health, specifically in regards to depression and suicide. Last year's coverage surrounding the death of Robin Williams gives evidence to that.

But we still have a long way to go.

By joining in on the conversation this Wednesday, January 28th you're helping to ensure your friends and family, colleagues and co-workers, and fellow members of your community are not suffering in silence. Every voice makes a difference. Here are five ways you can use yours:

1. Be attentive to the language you use.

Your words can have a huge impact on the people around you. Be mindful of the way you talk about mental illness and suicide and how the language you use impacts those around you. Every time you make a joke about wanting to "kill yourself," keep in mind you may be standing next to someone who has experienced a suicide attempt.

Avoid using phrases like, "committed suicide," or "took the coward's way out." Though there is no clear-cut manner you should be talking about suicide, these phrases can be interpreted in the wrong ways. Instead, consider saying "died by suicide," or "death by their own hand."

2. Educate yourself on how to talk to the person you're worried about.

We have a natural tendency to tell someone who is experiencing depression to "cheer up," or "just get back on the bike." When in fact, nothing could be less helpful. We have to get comfortable asking the difficult questions:

"Do you feel isolated and alone?"

"Are you having thoughts of suicide?"

Sometimes, being a listener is the best support you can provide. You're not there to solve the problem. But you can learn how to recognize people who are at risk, be there for them to talk to, and connect them with professional help as needed.

3. Encourage others to come forward and share experiences in a hopeful way.

When Robin Williams' death was reported in newspapers and magazines, we often read stories of his legacy and the incredible influence he had on the people around him. This helped to demonstrate that it's how a person lived, not how they died that should define them.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by mental illness, look for opportunities to share your story in a way that inspires hope and resilience in others. "We cannot give another person hope," reads the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) website, but we can help them find ways of exploring their "own definition of what [hope] means in the midst of life."

4. Be kind, compassionate and non-judgmental.

What if we were to think of mental illness in the same way we think of physical illness? We'd be much more sympathetic, and more likely to provide the emotional and social help that's needed.

Small acts of kindness can have a big impact. A simple conversation with a stranger could make his day. Look for ways to show your support and help those who may be struggling to overcome their fears and concerns about seeking help.

5. Join the dialogue.

Every conversation you have is another step forward in breaking down the walls of silence. Every tweet and Facebook post you share -- whether it be on Bell Let's Talk day or any other - helps to expand the movement around promoting mental well-being. Continue making the efforts to advocate for meaningful change. It's working, and it's saving lives in the process.

Do you have any suggestions to add? What are you doing to help break the stigma? Visit the-reply.com on Wednesday, January 28th to see our Bell Let's Talk video project.


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