On the surface it’s a simple enough message, but as part of a national mental health campaign it’s anything but.
The Bell Let’s Talk campaign is a multi-year charitable program dedicated to mental health. Bell has committed more than $67.5 million to support a wide range of mental health organizations across Canada which target anti-stigma, care and access, workplace health and research.
While it raises money to support programs and services, it also serves as a reminder that we all need to be part of the conversation around mental illness.
Unlike other diseases, mental illness remains a conversation far too many refuse to engage in. For people with mental illness, the fear of stigma and discrimination is real. It prevents people from speaking for themselves and getting the help they need. Families struggle with the burden of shame, as if they somehow played a role or are to be blamed for a child’s mental illness. This struggle jeopardizes early intervention. Friends and colleagues fear having “that’ conversation, as it might somehow make things worse. In reality, it often makes people dealing with illness feel more isolated.
And finally, and this is a doozy, we need to rethink how we talk and portray mental illness in today’s society. I am unaware of any other illness that serves as a punch line so often, for so many. When it isn’t used as a joke, it is used in fiction as something horrific and dangerous or to rationalize things that we don’t understand.
For as long as I can remember, movies and television programs used a standard model and premise to scare the public -- paranoia of the day and stereotypes. But as the world became smaller through education and the internet, those stereotypes just didn’t hold up. We somehow have not evolved in the portrayal of people with mental illness. I admit I haven’t conducted a formal study, but if you were to look at all the “slasher” movies and television programs made I am sure a large many are done under the premise that the killer has a mental illness. As well, any form of care or treatment is often presented as violent and sinister. So not only do these programs discriminate against people with mental illness and unfairly represent the connection of mental illness to violence, they heighten anxiety among people who might need treatment.
One in five will develop a mental illness in their lifetime. So why do we treat this illness as something so inconceivable? Why do we treat mental illness like a character flaw?
It’s time to change our views and talk more openly and accurately about mental health.
Ontario Shores and Bell will have an information booth January 28 at the Pickering Town Centre from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. to continue the conversation about mental health.
And don’t forget, Bell will contribute 5 cents to mental health on Bell Let’s Talk Day for every:
• Text message sent by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers.
• Mobile and long distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers.
• Tweet using #BellLetsTalk.