Here it comes again, my friends: Bell Let’s Talk day. If you’ve never heard of it, let me explain. For each mobile and long distance call, Facebook image share, tweet including #BellLetsTalk and text message sent, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health initiatives. (I’m basically just quoting their website here.)
I’m never one to shy away from spreading awareness for mental health. I did complete a degree in psychology, after all. I’m particularly interested in abnormal psychology, to boot. (For those of you who don’t know, abnormal psychology ranges from schizophrenia to ADHD to depression to OCD). My issue with Bell Let’s Talk day is in it’s name: the word day.
Raising awareness, creating conversation and donating to mental health initiatives should not be a singular day’s objective. It should be a continuing conversation, a continuing process, a continuous activity. The stigma surrounding mental health lessens each day but, that’s not to say it is anywhere near being non-stigmatized.
How many people do you know that suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorders, etc? I’m guessing the number hovers around zero. People suffering from mental illnesses suffer alone. They suffer alone because telling someone you have a mental illness is a daunting process. As humans, we strive for perfection. Mental illness becomes a flaw in that perfect exterior. It also becomes a reason for people to be scared of you, it gives them an excuse to release you from the bonds of friendship, and it allows them to look and treat you differently.
Optimistically speaking, if someone is a true friend, when they learn you have a mental illness, they won’t disappear, never to be seen again. Instead, they’ll walk you to therapy, spend more time with you and be willing to have conversations about your suffering. In short, they will be there for you. The problem lies in not knowing.
I like to believe that people are inherently good. I like to believe that if I suffered from a mental illness, my friends would stick around. I like to believe that I would be strong enough to share with others that I do suffer from a mental illness. But that’s not the case, in most cases (was that an ironic sentence?).
You read about a man who took a machete on the Greyhound and cutting off someone’s head because he wasn’t taking his medications for schizophrenia. You read about a girl committing suicide because she was unable to conquer an eating disorder. You read about the celebrity who overdosed on pain medication because of addiction. You read about all these, admittedly, scary cases of mental illness. But you don’t get to read about the boy who suffers from depression and manages to make it to class every single day and graduate on the Dean’s list. You don’t read about the girl who conquered her eating disorder and eats three square meals a day with healthy snacks in between. You don’t read about the man with schizophrenia who takes his pills regularly and can still work from home to support himself.
It’s time for us to find the good and the strength and the honesty in mental illness. People with mental illnesses are not all violent. People with mental illnesses are not all about to commit suicide. People with mental illnesses are not all bed-bound. In fact, people with mental illnesses are people. They live among us every day, contributing to society. Shocker.
I urge you to talk about mental illness tomorrow. Use the hashtag, share the photo, make those calls and sent those texts. But don’t stop there. Ask a friend who seems to be down lately if they’re really okay. Read an article on the success stories of anxiety medication helping those with severe anxiety. If you’ve been hiding your mental illness, tell somebody you trust and give them the opportunity to help. And keep doing these things for the next week, month, year, decade. Don’t stop. Keep talking. Just keep talking.