Complex Mental Illness Continues to be Heavily Stigmatized

It’s been 10 years since I professionally entered the mental health world.

I vividly recall making the move from journalism to communications in the mental health sector and immediately recognizing how little the media and society seemed to care about this issue. I would conduct media searches regularly, only to find a sparse amount of news stories on mental health. And, if I did find a story, it was commonly negative in nature with a vast number of inaccuracies that further perpetuated the stigma associated with people struggling with mental health and mental illness.

Times have certainly changed. I am proud of how far our society has come over the last decade. Mental health is now an issue of significance in our society. When political campaigns are run, candidates must not only have an informed opinion on mental health issues facing our province or country, they are expected to have a plan of action in hand.  Back in the early days of 2006, I found it difficult to find a politician or community leader eager to be a voice for those struggling. Today, the issue has many voices that are determined to bring about real change and eliminate the stigma associated with it.

Every year when I begin to see the promotion surrounding Bell Let’s Talk Day I am still in amazement. As a cause, we had hopes that one day corporate Canada would see the opportunities in adopting mental health as a cause.

And since 2010, Bell has been answering the call through it’s an annual event that encourages Canadians to talk about mental health, work towards ending stigma and support mental health initiatives across the country.

This year, Bell Let’s Talk Day is Wednesday, January 27. On this day, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives for every text, talk, tweet and share.

Since the first Let’s Talk Day, Bell has committed over $100 million to support a wide range of mental health organizations, large and small, from coast to coast to coast.

The impact Bell has had on mental health is tremendous. They have helped ignite conversations across the country and opened doors for people who might not have reached out for help as a result of stigma.

Bravo.

As we look ahead to this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, I have bigger hopes for Bell and society as a whole. While layers are being peeled away through this campaign and others, the stigma attached to people with severe or complex mental illness still very much exists. This is obvious every time a patient comes in contact with the law and media advisory is issued or a story is published. The vile and thoughtless comments people post on social media channels in response to these advisories and articles is heartbreaking.

It’s unfortunate, but the truth is there is no cure for mental illness. Those receiving help are learning how to manage their illness so they can live a meaningful life. Along the road to recovery, there are bumps. A sad truth is that sometimes people living mental illness can attract attention when they are in the midst of a bump or rough patch.

In support of Bell Let’s Talk Day, Ontario Shores is encouraging our staff, volunteers, patients and families to get involved any way they can. We are also releasing a number of blogs from patients and people impacted by mental illness. We are a calling it ‘Real Talk on Let’s Talk’.  These are real stories from people who have great experience with mental illness who have had to rebuild their lives while facing the stigma of living with complex mental illness.

The truth is, sometimes mental illness is messy. Sometimes it can make you uncomfortable. However, at its core, mental illness is a health issue like so many others. Instead of being afraid of it or angered by it, we need to understand it. We need to understand that it is more than simply feeling ‘blue’ or having the ‘blahs’. Mental illness turns people’s lives upside down. Not just the person struggling, but often the lives of the people who love them. 

As a society, it’s the stigma associated with complex and severe mental illness that we need to tackle next. It is my hope that the next wave of public support for mental illness can begin to address this layer of stigma and the impact it has people in their darkest moments. People with complex and severe mental illness are vulnerable and in need of help. They are also mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, teachers, first responders, neighbours and friends. We need to support them and take time to understand them.