Shining a Light for Mental Health #BellLetsTalkI’m messing up my posting schedule this week (the first article of the week usually goes out on Mondays, not Tuesdays) but I assure you it’s for a good reason, and a good cause. You see, today is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada (which is where I happen to live). Let’s Talk Day is an initiative started by the Bell Canada corporation about 4  years ago as a way to raise awareness and funds for mental health initiatives across the country. For every text message or phone call made by those using Bell mobile systems, for every tweet sent using hashtag #BellLetsTalk, for every share of their Let’s Talk Day image via their Facebook page on their annual Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates an additional 5 cents towards mental health projects across the country.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it.  – Edith Wharton

I’m a big supporter of this initiative. So if you’re following my Twitter feed, you’re going to get a whole more stuff than usual on Let’s Talk Day. And I’ll be sharing Bell’s images on my Facebook page. And I encourage each and every one of you to get involved and do the same, because it really is high time we all started a real conversation about mental health.

Mental Health is Everyone’s Business

Here’s the thing: every single one of us is affected by mental illness. You know someone with a mental illness; someone you care about is suffering from one, right at this very moment. In fact, statistically, there’s more than one someone in your life who is affected. Because 20% of us, that’s 1 in 5 people, will personally suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives. And it’s not something that discriminates; mental illness affects people of every age, cultural background, educational and income level. The really sad thing is that 75% of those suffering will suffer in silence and never seek the help they need because of the very real fear of stigma.

What Does Stigma Do?

Stigma just refers to the negative stereotypes about mental illness that are so prevalent out there. It’s such a little word, but stigma is a huge, huge issue within mental health communities because it spreads fear and perpetuates prejudice against those living with mental illnesses. Common examples of stigma include:

  • People being ostracized or shunned:  In a study done by the Canadian Medical Association, 51% of Canadians said they would not socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness.
  • Unjustified fear: In that same study 27%  said they were afraid to be around people with serious mental illnesses.
  • View that “it’s not real”: A separate study by the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health found that 46% think mental illness is just used an excuse for bad behaviour.
  • Discrimination: In a 2006 study published in Current Opinions in Psychiatry, the unemployment rate of people with mental health issues was found to be 60%, compared to 20% in the general population.
  • Victimization: People with mental health issues are mistakenly viewed as dangerous, but according to the Canadian Medical Association, the reality is that people with mental illness are two and a half to four times more likely to be the victims of violence than any other group in our society.

All of these factors make people who are suffering from mental health issues afraid to get the help they need, when they need it most. And that’s why initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day, like the You Know Who I Am campaign, and like Bring Change 2 Mind are so important – because they are the voices of truth that shine a light into the darkness, dispelling the myths about mental illness and letting us all know that there is hope out there. Letting us know that there are people who care.

Why I Care About Mental Health

So why do I, personally, care so much about all of this? I care because I have friends who suffer from mental illness. I care because I’ve lost family members to suicide. I care because I’ve struggled with multiple forms of clinical depression since childhood, and because I’ve been in the dark place where the only way that  you can see of ending the pain is death. I have been there. I know what it’s like. And if you are in that dark place, please believe that there is hope.

But darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear. ~The Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”

I want you to know that, no matter how dark it seems, your light is still there inside of you even though you cannot see it right now. And if you are struggling to find the tiniest spark to keep going, then look for ours – the lights from the millions of souls who have been where you are and come out the other side, stronger than we were. We are holding the candle for you today, and every day. Look for our light. We are here, we believe in you and we love you. You are not alone.

photo credit: pixabay.com cc
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