Silent No More – Destroying the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness
The shadow constantly follows them. Clinging to their bodies, its claws gripping their victim’s flesh, it refuses to let go. It viciously thrashes from side to side, tearing off parts of its victim in the process. Each time this occurs, two things are certain: first, after every attack a small piece of them dies inside, and second, that shadow will always follow them.
Mental illness isn’t a monster – but it sure as hell feels like one.
One in five. Over the course of their lifetime, 20% of Canadians will suffer from a mental illness. The statistics are staggering; according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 22% of Canadians currently have a mood/anxiety disorder, 8% will suffer from depression, and 1% will develop schizophrenia. Chances are, someone you know is battling a mental illness.
The unpredictable mood swings of bipolar disorder pollute the person’s mind, while depression is a constant that stains its victim in black ink, and schizophrenia floods them with voices that can’t be heard, and delusions that can’t be seen. According to the Canadian Medical Association, “27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness.” It’s this fact that often scares people away, and forces victims into silence for fear of judgement, which only perpetuates a stigma that loops itself into a never-ending cycle.
After all, how do you tell someone you love that you’re diseased?
Becca Todd, psychology major at the University of Lethbridge has been battling generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder since she entered university in 2013. Anxious and prone to overthinking in everyday environments and social situations, Todd said that it’s a constant battle.
However, for years her self-harm disorder remained in darkness, and without reason. While the concept of cutting is shocking to most people, Todd often found herself overwhelmed by panic attacks and a choking sensation. She sought a way out. “It calms me down, and it’s like a waterfall; it’s like I had boulders on my shoulders, and as soon as I cut…they’re gone, and it’s [a] release and I can breathe again,” said Todd.
“It was kind of bittersweet…It was very relieving,” Todd said of her diagnosis. This realization was her saving grace, and she began seeing a therapist regularly. “It definitely has made a difference in my life for the good.”
January 25, 2017 is a special day. It is Bell’s “Let’s Talk Day” in Canada. This initiative aims to drive home how important it is to open a dialogue about mental illness. The mission statement on their Facebook page says how “we’ve started a conversation about mental health. Now, let’s take it one step further. Let’s work together to help increase awareness, reduce stigma, and change behaviours and attitudes about mental health issues. Let’s talk about what matters most.”
Ordinary Canadians will be able to do something extraordinary on January 25th, 2017. Through each use of social media posts and our regular day-to-day communications, Bell will donate 5 cents to various mental health initiatives. This includes, “every text message, mobile and long distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers; every tweet using #BellLetsTalk; every view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video at Facebook.com/BellLetsTalk; every post [on Instagram] using #BellLetsTalk, [and] every use of the Bell Let’s Talk Snapchat geofilter.”
While 5 cents might not seem like a lot of money, the 2016 Let’s Talk campaign proved that every nickel counts. There were 125.9 million messages generated on Bell Let’s Talk Day 2016, and those inspirational messages of support translated into nearly $6.3 million for the cause. Since the campaign was launched in 2010, nearly $80 million has been raised and donated by Bell.
Bell has committed at least $100 million to various mental health initiatives by the end of 2020.
There has always been a set response for victims who suffer from a physical illness; noticing a problem, alerting medical professionals, being examined by a doctor, the diagnosis, planning and executing a treatment plan, and recovery. But mental illness has always been different for there are no physical wounds. It’s time that people understand that just as your organs can become diseased, so can the human mind.
As Todd asked, “But why can’t you see it the way we do? See it how it’s just a brain disease.”
DNA has a genetic flaw, an imbalance of chemicals flow within the brain, and neurons are damaged – but because we can’t physically see a problem, sufferers of mental illness are treated differently. People always accuse victims of being over dramatic, attention seeking, and how their problems are simply “all in their heads.”
The CMHA reports that 49% of people who suffer from anxiety disorders or depression never contact a doctor, and a further 500,000 people every week miss work due to a mental health problem (Mental Health Commission of Canada). Heartbreakingly, approximately 11 people commit suicide in Canada every day (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention).
The biggest injustice in this world is for an injustice to remain silent. With every Facebook post, tweet, photograph, news story, smile and hug, the battle against mental illness is slowly won. An enemy that exists only in the minds of people cannot be fought if everyone remains silent about speaking about mental illness, and fails those who try to get help. A dialogue must be opened.
Anyone with a mental illness needs to hear one thing: You are not alone. You will never be alone. Through medication, a strong support system, and therapy, recovery – and hope – is a possibility.
Until we open a meaningful dialogue and break the silence on mental illness, people will continue to become statistics.
“I think the first step, the final step, the middle step, is talking…And I think that if everybody talks, it’ll change the world forever,” said Howie Mandel, comedian, and spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk.
So, hold your heads up high as you face this world; you are some of the bravest people on Earth. Because beautiful things will always find a way to shine through the darkness.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness and is in immediate distress, or is a threat to themselves or someone else, please call 911 immediately. You can also contact the British Columbia branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association at (604) 688-3234, or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.