Bell Let’s Talk Day

Today marks the fifth Bell Let’s Talk day, a campaign aimed at opening up conversations about mental illness to combat the stigma that prevents so many people from seeking help.

Stigma is a negative, disrespectful, and untrue judgment about someone based on what people think they know about them and their situation. Many Canadians have reported that they have faced discrimination because of their mental health diagnosis. Additionally, stereotypes about people with mental illness are often based on ignorance, misunderstanding, or misinformation.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Unfortunately only 23% of individuals with mental illness would talk about it with their employer even though 44% of workers say they have or have had mental health issues. Stigma is the reason that 49% of those who suffer from depression or anxiety have never gone to a doctor about it.

Bell Let’s Talk day is all about open, honest conversations about mental illness and the impact of mental health issues across Canada in order to continue chipping away at stigma. Asking for help continues to be a difficult decision for many people. They may feel ashamed or scared, or are concerned that others may judge them or treat them negatively based on a metal health issue or diagnosis. In fact, just under half of all Canadians think that a mental illness was just an excuse for poor behavior. Why are there still so many misconceptions about mental illness?

The answer is not simple. Many factors lead to stigma and discrimination, which in turn can prevent people from getting or having basic things that most of us take for granted. Three of these factors are fear, untrue beliefs, and blame. Fear of violence or aggression, or of the perceived instability of an individual with a mental illness, leads to overt discrimination. It doesn’t help that the media often perpetuates the belief that those with a mental illness are unpredictable and volatile. More often than not individuals with mental illnesses are the victims, not the perpetrators. Untrue beliefs, for example that people aren’t capable of getting work done or that people cannot recover from a mental illness, are inaccurate and isolating. Blame can take the form of others blaming us for our condition, or in us blaming ourselves.

So how can we end the stigma around mental illness? Bell Let’s Talk day is part of that, and they suggest 5 ways to start:

1. Pay attention to language – words can help or hurt. We can explain to friends, coworkers etc., that using terms like nutcase, psycho, or crazy may be hurtful and are inaccurate.
2. Become Educated – there are a lot of myths out there about mental illness – arm yourself by knowing the facts!
3. Be Kind – don’t stand by if someone is being bullied, treat a person with mental illness the way you treat others with illnesses
4. Listen and ask – don’t make light of someone’s illness. Be available and ask how you can help.
5. Talk about it! Bell Let’s Talk day is about breaking the silence, talking about how mental illness affects all of us, and sharing stories about our experiences.

The Canadian Mental Health Association statistics indicate that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. If it doesn’t happen to you it will happen to someone you know. Be prepared and be informed. Have a support system set up – family and friends you trust, a psychologist you can contact, people who will surround you with support. Know what you would like to say about mental illness – whether about yourself or someone else. Have a plan of action in case you see or hear someone being bullied. Two out of three people suffer in silence with a mental illness, fearing judgement and rejection. Don’t be one of those two. Talk to someone you trust, make an appointment and access resources.  And tomorrow – text, make phone calls, share the Facebook image, or tweet using #BellLetsTalk and let’s work at eliminating stigma!