Today is a bonus post because, here in Canada, an event that I’m passionate about it happening – Bell Let’s Talk Day. It is put on by the telecommunications company Bell and it’s meant to bring light to mental illnesses. It’s premise is to get people talking about mental illnesses and strives to end the stigma around mental illnesses.
Mental illnesses are real and are not just in a person’s head. The phrase “it’s all in your head” is very damaging to people who have mental illnesses because you’re brushing off what is very real for them and they feel like a failure because they are not able to “shake it off”.
I watched a TEDTalk a couple of months ago about someone who had a mental illness. At one point he said that if he stood up there and told people he had cancer, they would feel sympathy for him but if he told people he had a mental illness, people wouldn’t talk him seriously, say it was all just in his head, or possibly even be scared of him.
It is true. When it comes to illnesses of the brain/mind, we are less likely to sympathize with them than if they had a illness of the body.
Just the other day, I had a friend text me about a guy who had asked her out who was on meds for depression and anxiety and someone told her that they thought he had schizophrenia as well. She was still willing to go out with him but she didn’t know much about schizophrenia. I have someone close to me who has schizophrenia and I told her that if he was like them, he would be aware of his symptoms and know when to take extra meds.
Another thing she said was that she would not have known he was on medication for mental illnesses if he had not told her. I think that is one thing people often don’t realize. People with mental illnesses can live normal lives when they’re getting treatment.
One stat that always astounds me is how many people say they would not socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. Do people not realize how many people around them suffer from mental illnesses? Considering that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, you’ve probably socialized with many people who have mental illnesses. How would you respond if you knew about their mental illness?
The stigma around mental illnesses stop people from getting help. I know when I was going through my struggles of my own mental health, for many years I didn’t tell anyone about them because I thought they would think of me differently and I was ashamed of my struggles.
We also have a tendency to label people with their illnesses. We make it part of their identity. Someone doesn’t have schizophrenia, they are schizophrenic. Someone doesn’t have bipolar depression or manic depression, they are bipolar.
The same is not true of other illnesses. We don’t go around saying someone is cancer, someone is high blood pressure, someone is diabetes. No, we say they have cancer, high blood pressure, or diabetes. We don’t throw comments around like “Oh, he’s just cancer” or “She’s just diabetes.” But we do it for mental illnesses. “He’s just schizophrenic.” “She’s just depressed.”
We need to change the way we speak about mental illnesses and become aware and more knowledgeable about them.
The only time we really hear about mental illnesses in the media is when someone with one kills someone. We need to change the perception that people with mental illnesses are to be feared and are dangerous.
They are ordinary people who have illnesses that can be treated and they need our support. Be part of the conversation. Start talking about mental illnesses today and every day.
For more stats and to find out how you can help go to letstalk.bell.ca