Mental health is a hard topic for many to discuss out in the open. Having a day to speak about mental health openly is an amazing thing. When I was growing up, mental health was only talked about after a prominent suicide or horrible event (like a school shooting), and usually not in a positive light. This approach has made too many people, including myself, fight their illnesses in silence; in fear of being associated with countless negative images. Bell Let’s Talk is on its way to changing that conversation, by talking about stigma, about hope and about how most of us will one day recover.
What stigma feels like
When I was first trying to understand my struggle with mental illness, the images that came to mind weren’t positive ones. They were usually characters in movies or TV episodes that showed "crazy people" as serial killers, stalkers, overdramatic "emo kids" or old ladies that throw cats at people. When starting this journey, most people don't have any other image of people with mental health issues. This can make us scared and hopeless, thinking that's what we will become. Or some people disregard a diagnosis completely, because the common images don’t represent their experience.
Once we have learned a little about what it really means to be mentally ill and that recovery is possible, we are still in silence. We live in fear of the reaction of others. People think that mentally ill = crazy, or scary. So even though we are just learning to accept what is happening to us, we hear people saying things like they would never hire someone with a gap in their employment because " gasp" they might have been in the psych ward.
When people react in ways that make us feel bad about what we are going through, it creates a fear of talking about it to others. I have been told I would not have been hired if my mental illness was known. I have had friends insist that I am just lying. It is only because I have met amazing people and found support from my friends and my community that I can keep pressing on through these stigmatizing comments.
Change is happening
Campaigns like Let’s Talk Day help us recognize and appreciate those people who are awesome at continuing these conversations. But we need to do this work every day because people experience mental illness and stigma every day. We need to educate and show people what mental illness really looks like. We need to continue fighting stigma and educating Canadians about mental health and the resources available to them.
I can see people changing. The conversation is opening slowly, but in order to continue this powerful dialogue, we need to continue advocating for good mental health care at all times. Fighting mental health stigma is not easy, but by allowing us to be open about our journey to recovery we are making it just a little easier for others. And that, my friends, can be the difference between life or death.