Let’s have the conversation and end the stigma

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It’s a fact, one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lifetime. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for anyone suffering from mental illness is overcoming the stigma. This is the number one reason why two-thirds of those living with a mental illness do not seek help.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is on January 25; it is a day set aside for millions of Canadians to open up and discuss mental illness, offer new ideas and hope to those who struggle with some form of mental illness every single day, with numbers growing drastically annually. According to the Bell Let’s Talk website, the total donation to mental health programs now stands at $79,919,178.55 and is well on its way to donating at least one-hundred-million dollars through 2020. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate five cents towards mental health initiatives in Canada, by counting every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view, and Snapchat geofilter – use the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.

Mental illnesses are not always dealing with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, they are also common disorders, like anxiety, adult attention disorder, alcoholism and substance addiction, just to name a few. However, one of the most popular mental illnesses that goes unrecognized is depression, and it affects millions of Canadians daily.

I would say that I have lived a pretty privileged life thus far. I am only 24-years-old but, I am confident with this statement. I have been ever so lucky as to gain a diploma in journalism before attending Brock University to further my education. I have travelled near and far to gain knowledge about other cultures and that has filled my soul. I have two extremely supportive parents, two sisters who are my rocks in this life, two exceptionally spunky brother-in-laws, two gorgeous nieces, an adorable little nephew and a close knit circle of friends whom I absolutely adore. So, yes, my life thus far has been quite the wild ride.

Despite all of the good, in 2015 I had a lot going on in my life. I had the pressure of not knowing what I wanted to do after college, causing great anxiety and making me sick to my stomach. I had a very toxic group of friends and a relationship that I needed to rid myself of because both were hindering my overall mental health and well being. On top of all of this, my aunt was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer. At the time, we had no idea that she would be a cancer survivor and beat the hell out of the disease.

These three major conflicts, along with a number of other little things, really got the better of me and I found myself searching high and low for any sort of motivation to get out of bed in the mornings. All I wanted to do was stay in bed for days on end, not talk to anyone, not see anyone, not go to school and not even eat. I fell into this crazy bout of depression and kept getting worse. Because of this, my grades were suffering in my final year of college, I went from achieving A’s and receiving exceptional feedback to not submitting assignments at all.

It wasn’t until one of my instructors at Mohawk College, Kurt Muller, asked me what the deal was when I realized that I needed some form of assistance and support. He listened to me rant for a solid two hours and then set me up with a counsellor at the college to talk to whenever I needed it. After my first session with this extremely patient lady, I had realized that talking to someone about your hardships is not as scary as most people think. Therapists are so kind hearted and supportive – it is really remarkable that they do not get more recognition for their efforts. I can never repay Kurt for taking the time to start the conversation that needed to be had and for listening to everything I had to say.

Since then, I am happy to share that I have rid myself of toxic people, started making new memories with new people, started finding myself again, started participating in daily mindfulness and meditation and have overall become a more genuine person who is full of life and became someone who looks forward to the little things.

Anyway, that was my little spiel for you. Bottom line, going to talk to someone is the first step, I believe anyway, to combating whatever you are going through. Getting a non-biased opinion about what you’re dealing with can be extremely beneficial for your mental health.

As outlined on the Bell Let’s Talk website, there are four major pillars dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada and Bell Let’s Talk promotes all four: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research, and leading by example in workplace mental health.

 

  1. Anti-stigma: One of the biggest hurdles for anyone suffering from mental illness is overcoming the stigma attached to it. The annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign and actual day, is driving the national conversation to help reduce this stigma, promote awareness, promote understanding and talking about mental illness is an important first step towards lasting change.
  2. Care and Access: Bell Let’s Talk supports a variety of organizations including grassroots agencies, local hospitals and universities to help provide Canadians with support services when and where they need it.
  3. Workplace Health: Mental health is the leading cause of workplace disability in Canada and represents 15% of Canada’s burden of disease. They are committed to leading by example in our own workplace by adopting the voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, and is encouraging greater corporate engagement across Canada.
  4. Research: Research holds the greatest promise to better understand treatments and cures. Bell Let’s Talk is investing in best-in-class research programs with the potential to have a transformative impact on the mental health and well-being of Canadians.

 

There are also five simple ways to end the stigma surrounding mental health, developed in collaboration with Dr. Heather Stuart, the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University. Again, these are outlined on the Bell Let’s Talk website as well.

  1. Language matters: The words you use can make all the difference. Words can help but they can also hurt and as many of you know, words thrown at us stick to us for life – good or bad. So, for example, instead of calling a person a schizo, you should say: Person with schizophrenia.
  2. Educate yourself: When it comes to mental illness, education is key! Having the right tools, knowing the right words to use and understanding how to correctly speak with someone experiencing a mental illness can make all the difference. Head over to the Bell Let’s Talk website for some useful and helpful resources to educate yourself on this issue.
  3. Be kind: It sounds simple enough but kindness is not easy to kind in today’s world. Simple kindness can make a world of a difference. Whether it be a smile, being a good listener or an invitation for a chat over coffee, these simple acts of kindness can help open up the conversation and let someone know you’re there for them. Using expressions like, “you’ll get over it” and “just relax” can hurt more than help. Instead, offer your support and say “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well” or better yet, ask what you can do to help.
  4. Listen and ask: Sometimes it is best just to listen. Often times we listen to people for responding but in this case, all you need to do is listen and not respond. You can be that shoulder for someone. Mental illness is a very common form of human pain and suffering. Being a good listener and asking how you can help, or simply just being there for people you care about, can be the first step towards recovery. Not quite sure how to start the conversation? Here are a couple tips: “I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. Is everything okay?” or very simply, just ask how you can help.
  5. Talk about it: Break the silence! Two out of three people suffer in silence, fearing judgements and rejection. Starting a conversation is the first step towards eliminating the stigma. Know the facts, be kind, be a good listener and friend. This is where Bell Let’s Talk Day comes into play, be part of the conversation to eliminate stigma once and for all.

 

I would imagine that many of you have seen or heard at least one commercial supporting the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, each one contains a celebrity, athlete or person within the media industry sharing their stories about mental illness.

Clara Huges has won six Olympic medals representing Canada in both speed skating and cycling. She is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games. She is also the National Spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk Day. By sharing past struggles with depression, Clara has helped break down the stigma associated with mental illness.

Howie Mandal is a Canadian comedian, actor and game show host. Mandal suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition characterized by repetitive thoughts, impulses or images, and behaviours performed over and over. Howie has been a part of the Bell Let’s Talk team since 2014, he has become an advocate for people living with OCD as well as other mental illnesses. He stresses that talking about your illness is the first step towards recovery.

Michael Landsberg is one of the most best-known personalities in Canadian broadcasting. Landsberg speaks publicly about his personal battle with depression and considers his ability to reduce the stigma of mental illness as his most important professional calling. He too has been with the Bell Let’s Talk team since 2014.

 

But what about celebrities who are not a part of Bell Let’s Talk Day? Here are a few celebrities who have shared their stories about mental illness.

Demi Lovato: “[My eating disorder and self harming] was a way of expressing my own shame, of myself, on my own body. I was matching the inside to the outside. There were some times where my emotions were just so built up, I didn’t know what to do. The only way that I could get instant gratification was through an immediate release on myself.”

Ellen Degeneres: “When I walked out of the studio after five years of working so hard, knowing I had been treated so disrespectfully for no other reason than I was gay, I went into this deep, deep, deep depression.”

Jim Carrey: “I had to realize on my own that, you know what, everything’s just going to be okay. You need to get out of bed every day and say that life is good. That’s what I did, although at times it was very difficult for me.”

Winona Ryder: “You can’t pay enough money to cure that feeling of being broken and confused. It’s not like every day’s been great ever since. You have good days and bad days, and depression’s something that, you know, is always with you.”

Hayden Panettiere: “There’s a lot of misunderstanding — there’s a lot of people out there that think that [postnatal depression] is not real, that it’s not true, that it’s something that’s made up in their minds, that “Oh, it’s hormones.” They brush it off. It’s something that’s completely uncontrollable. It’s really painful and it’s really scary, and women need a lot of support.”

John Green: “Like millions of others, I take medication to help treat my mental illness. Treating chronic medical conditions must not be stigmatized!”

If you are a Badger looking for personal counselling, you may be interested in visiting the counselling services located in the Schmon Tower (ST400). Alternatively, counsellors can be reached by telephone at (905-688-5550 x3240).

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There are also a few after hours’ crisis resources that students can utilize as well, such as: The Niagara Distress Centre (905-688-3711), personal counselling for emergency after hours (905-327-2244) and the popular 24 Hours Post-Secondary Student Hotline, also known as Good 2 Talk (1-866-925-5454).

Some quick fixes to relieve anxiety and sometimes depression could even be a stroll out in nature and getting a breath of much needed fresh air. Nature has a way of listening and giving the best advice, you just have to listen. Often times music can also play a vital role in our mood, so crank your favourite jams and dance like no one is watching: SHAKE IT OFF! SHAKE IT OFF! Self-improvement is not always a straight line, so be forgiving of yourself.

Always remember: It doesn’t matter how much your mental illness/disorder takes over your life; it will never define you.

Badgers, all I ask of you is to make 2017 your “Selfish Year”, we are only in January so you have loads of time. Use your time to better yourself, be so invested in yourself that you become a better person mentally and physically. Take the time to breathe and meditate. Love yourself a little more today than you did yesterday and a little more tomorrow than you did today. This life is good.

 

-Loredana Del Bello, Assistant Campus News Editor 

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