Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's Talk... About Mental Illness

Today is an important day for me.

Over the past couple weeks, bus stops, billboards, newspapers and the Internet have sported the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, with notable personalities such as Olympian Clara Hughes, comedian and TV personality Howie Mandel and sports journalist Michael Landsberg accompanying this message. All of these personalities have dealt with their own battles with mental illness.

But what is this initiative, Let's Talk?

Currently in it's fifth year, Bell launched an initiative to end the stigma of mental illness among youth and adults, at school and in the workplace, and has to date committed $67.5 million to mental health initiatives in Canada. Through every llong distance call or text made on the Bell network, every tweet that has the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, and share of the image put on their Facebook, Bell will donate 5 cents towards these initiatives.

Last year, Bell raised nearly $5.5 million dollars for mental illness awareness.

So why does this matter? And why do I care?

And perhaps, why should you care?

Mental illness has increased in visibility over the years through news and media. And because of how media sensationalizes many things, along with our sometimes poor awareness and understanding, we are left to fear certain issues and things.

The definition of fear is "an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat".

If we "fear" mental illness, then I can see why.

Time and time again we hear about shootings of innocent lives because the person behind the gun was "mentally unstable" or suffered from Schizophrenia. We hear of bridges being closed off on both sides, creating traffic jams because emergency personnel are trying to coax a person who was about to commit suicide off of a bridge. With all this information being hurled at us left, right, and center, it really is no wonder that many of us fear mental illness and people with it.

I have mentioned in a previous post that I myself had my own battles and dealings with inner demons and wrestled with the self-acceptance of who I was and what I dealt with. I can firmly admit that as a young teenager, I did not understand the pain that I was feeling and the emotions that ripped through me. But one thing I did know was that I would not go and seek help from anyone.

Of course in retrospect, I shake my head at my 15 year old self. Help and support is the first thing that someone needs when you are bullied, when you are depressed or suicidal. Help should never be feared.

In retrospect as well, I can combine the knowledge of what I know with my previous actions. I myself had internalized within myself that if I needed to go seek help from a counselor, then therefore, I must have a mental health issue. I must be mentally ill.

I know now that this was all fear circulating within me. I could not afford to have people that I knew watch me walk into the counselor's office. I knew I would be outcast and labelled as "mentally ill". This fear is indeed an unpleasant emotion, and it built up what I knew and what I thought I knew about mental illness.

Growing up, I had instantly connected "mental illness" with autism, Down syndrome, dyslexia, and many others. Growing up and not having a full understanding of these issues, I was scared to hear people tell me to go see a counselor. I thought it confirmed that I did in fact suffer from mental illness, and having people tell me to go see a counselor validated that people saw something in me that I refused to see.

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But of course, going to counselling saved my life. And this is why I care about mental illness and the campaign that Bell has started.

As I read on Facebook this morning, "mental illness isn't as scary as we make it out to be", I firmly believe that this is true. If you Google "list of mental disorders/illnesses", the list has familiar names as well as names that have never been mentioned in media. But just because you suffer from anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, dyslexia, social anxiety, narcolepsy or depression, it does not dehumanize you. You are still you, and nothing less than you. You still possess the gift of yourself, something that is precious and necessary for the world.

Just like many other initiatives that raise awareness for various causes, I hope that Bell Let's Talk is even more successful than it has been in previous years and is not just a one day affair. Mental illness is a very prevalent issue among youth and adults in our society, and many times it goes unnoticed because we either do not fully comprehend it or are too afraid to start the conversation. But I want you all to know that mental illness, while it might sound terrifying and personal, needs to be brought to the forefront.

1 in 5 Canadians will experience will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Let's raise awareness and stand in solidarity against the stigma.

 I wish everyone a fantastic rest of the week and to never be afraid of showing the world who they are. Live high, live mighty, and keep spilling ink while you do.

x R

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