Bell Let’s Talk is an annual campaign undertaken by Bell Canada, a telecommunication company, with the purpose of sparking conversation around mental health and working to end the stigma around mental illness. On one day a year - this year, January 30 - each post on various social media platforms with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk would prompt Bell to donate 5 cents to various mental health initiatives across Canada. It is a great initiative that provides much needed funding for mental health programs and services across Canada. However, I feel that designating a specific day to discuss mental health and illness and to promote the end of stigma removes the significance of the issue, as many only discuss mental health one this one day, every year. And while these services are essential, I feel that another discussion must continually take place - how do we tackle stigma and mental health on a micro scale?
Addressing the internal biases and stigmas we hold within ourselves is essential if we hope to put an end to stigma around mental health and mental illness. It’s easy to feel that one is making a substantial difference by tweeting a simple hashtag, or putting a filter on a Snapchat you post on your story. It’s true - you are raising awareness about the issue that is stigma around mental illness and the mental health crisis folks in Canada face every single day. But we also need to ask ourselves - what are we doing outside of hashtagging and posting photos? An essential challenge begins when we start to tackle the little habits, thoughts, and biases that are embedded into the way we experience life.
A good way to begin is by changing the language we used to describe things, people, events, and the like. Using phrases and/or words such as “insane”, “mental case”, “psycho”, “post-(event) depression” among many others, can be insensitive to the people around us that struggle with mental illness. By attributing these words to something out of context, we may hurt the people around us who struggle with mental illnesses or with maintaining a healthy mental state. It can often minimize, or even invalidate the feelings and experiences that a person is going through, so it is important to be mindful.
Albeit simple and almost commonsensical, we can also strive to be active listeners to those around us who are going through some struggles. Being there for someone and reassuring them of the support and love that is given to them is something that can be done all year round, not just on an annual campaign event. Similar to how physical health can’t be separated from the body, mental health is also inseparable from our human existence. We need to be willing to support one another on more than just one day a year! It can become difficult to strike a balance when you are also going through your own struggles, but remember - it is also okay to create boundaries and take care of yourself first.
A final point to add is that we must strive to be accepting and including of all voices and experiences in the broader discussion. Like all things, mental health has an intersectional component to it. Acknowledging one’s life experiences and the events/meanings/etc that constitute that person is important in making someone feel validated and heard. It is crucial that we consider these things when being an active listener and supporter to a friend, or even a stranger. This goes back to addressing our internal biases and habits that we may have that could act as a roadblock in supporting someone in need. It’s definitely difficult, but essential if we want to make the discussion of mental health more meaningful, accessible, and validating to all.
Showing solidarity and speaking up on social media platforms effectively gets the discussion going, which is essential when tackling an issue - in this case, mental health. However, it often becomes the only way that folks get involved. This blog post is intended to remind us all that mental health is something that exists outside of BellLetsTalk, and is something that we must continually strive to address on a small scale if we want to make a significant difference on a larger scale. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.