Focusing on mental health

With Bell Let’s Talk approaching, it’s important to speak up and listen

I’m sure that plenty of us have seen the commercials for Bell Let’s Talk this year on TV. Various celebrities and families discuss their struggle with mental health or how they have grown to understand more about it through those in their life who may be battling a mental illness.

Bell Let’s Talk has done tons of work since their introduction in September 2010. For those who may be unaware of the initiative, Bell Let’s Talk aimed to create a new way of discussing mental illness and breaking the stigma that surrounds it. As stated on their website, “For every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter used on Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 25th, Bell will donate 5 cents more mental health initiatives across Canada.” So far, the initiative has earned 597,360,644 total interactions.

It’s important to talk about mental health. U of T prides itself on being an accessible school that offers programs and sessions to those suffering from a mental illness. Yet, I’ve come across professors who question the legitimacy of mental health, thereby forcing a student into retreating for fear that others will misunderstand or point-blank judge them for something that they can’t control.

Scenarios like this are the exact thing Bell Let’s Talk aims to diminish. It’s something that everyone should be aiming to diminish. How can we discuss our mental health and end our personal stigmatizations of our illnesses if outside parties act like they couldn’t care less about something that they clearly don’t understand? Let alone if those parties are in an institution that claims to be accessible to students.

Which leads into the next giant obstacle to overcome. Sharing personal experiences takes bravery and patience. Though, there will always be someone who doesn’t get it. Someone who doesn’t care. In all honesty, there will probably be many people who fit into these categories. Be that as it may, there is a scarier breed of ignorance that plagues the public.

It takes all of three seconds to find multiple cases of online bullying. We can look at the famous Amanda Todd case for instance. If you’re unfamiliar with the case, Todd was a 15-year-old Canadian girl who committed suicide in 2012 after being physically abused, bullied for her mental illness, and blackmailed into exposing her breasts via webcam. She posted a video to her YouTube channel revealing her struggles, which went viral after her death.

A 2014 World Health Organization report stated that over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. The same report also stated that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds.

I don’t think that I need to sit here and write about how disgusting some people can be when it comes to personal information being shared. I believe that a decent amount of us understand that charging a keyboard and writing deplorable comments on someone’s status or an article about their story doesn’t take bravery.

However, these are the people who need to be educated. Even those with mental illnesses can stand to learn something new from those going through similar situations. Everyone benefits by discussing the importance of mental health. But, more than anything, it’s important to talk more about mental health in an attempt to end the stigma that surrounds it.

Unfortunately, many mental illnesses are still being swept under the rug or dismissed as something that everyone goes through once in a while. However, trembling before a presentation or having one bad day does not equate depression or anxiety. The way we can put an end to these generalizations is to openly discuss what it means to have a mental illness and why it differs from something that doesn’t require medication or a therapist. There are people who genuinely want to help, but need to understand what it means to have a mental illness.

As I said before, everyone can benefit from talking more about mental health. As a progressing society, it’s crucial to move forward in our acceptance of other’s struggles. But it’s also crucial for those who are currently suffering from a mental illness to talk about them. Howie Mandel discussed in his Bell Let’s Talk TV spot about how he felt like he was the only one going through what he was going through. This really struck me when I watched it. This is a trademark symptom of those who suffer in silence. This is why we need to talk more about mental health. Why, even after a diagnosis, it’s important to keep talking about mental health. I would never want anyone in my life to feel like they couldn’t talk to me about something like this for fear that I would judge them or cast them aside. I think it’s safe to say that those reading this wouldn’t want that for their loved ones either.

That being said, it’s just as important to listen. There isn’t always the right advice or something worth saying when someone is suffering a panic attack. When someone can’t make it to school because they just need the day. When someone starts crying at the dinner table. Oftentimes, it means a lot when people just take the time to listen. I do believe it’s a good lesson for both parties to know that there’s nothing wrong them. There’s nothing wrong with the person who has a mental illness. There’s nothing wrong with the person who doesn’t know what to say when they see their friend going through something that they don’t understand. Oftentimes, there isn’t really anything to say. There’s no magic sentence to end a panic attack or to make someone feel better. (Especially those who think that “Cheer up!” is somehow good advice. Eureka! All problems have been solved!)

One of the ways to reach this realization, though, is to talk about mental health. To speak to friends and family who suffer from mental illnesses and get their perspective on the situation. To hear them out. To let them know that even if you don’t understand something, they’re not going through life without you. Understanding mental health is just as much about listening as it is opening about it.

If any of you read my editorial the other week about Simon Sinek’s talk on millennials (or watched the interview yourself), then you know that millennials have a tough enough time with self-esteem and making an immediate impact on the world. We shouldn’t tolerate any exacerbation of these issues by belittling those brave enough to come forward and discuss their mental illnesses. We should be embracing their stories, and even if we’re uncomfortable telling our own, we can relish in the fact that someone knows what we’re going through and that we don’t have to suffer alone.

This Bell Let’s Talk Day, make a point to read an article on mental health. Speak to someone about it. Watch a video on Facebook if someone is talking about their struggles or their triumphs. You’re not only doing them some good by accepting their stories without judgement, but you’re doing yourself some good in getting that much closer to understanding mental health.

A mental illness can be a terrifying thing to experience, but you don’t have to experience it alone.

YOURS,
MARIA CRUZ