Mental Health, Let's Talk About It
Today is Bell Let’s Talk day; a day when Canadians across the country focus their attention on ending the stigma attached to mental illness. Almost seven million dollars were raised in 2018, with messages of support provided by politicians, celebrities, and sports stars from across the country; while, in 2019, Bell’s goal is to surpass the $100 million mark. It truly is an inspiring event that, for at least one day, focuses attention on the mental health challenges faced by Canadians.
The psychological, social, and economic toll that mental health exacts on all of us is astounding. This week 500,000 Canadians will miss work for mental health reasons; and, 70% of disability claims are due to mental illness. According to statistics from 2012, 6 million Canadians met the criteria for substance disorder. Each year 4,000 Canadians die by suicide; put into perspective, that is an average of almost 11 people per day. These numbers are completely overwhelming, especially when we consider Canada’s relatively small population. Adding these figures together, it is clear that mental health affects us all in some way; yet, despite the increasing awareness and efforts to normalize mental illness, stigma still exists. The stigma around mental illness leads to shame, avoidance, and isolation for any person experiencing the illness. There is fear in asking for help and, at times, there are still very real repercussions when people do openly discuss their challenges.
This stigma also deeply affects teachers and educators throughout the education system. There are very few professions where there is more vulnerability in openly sharing mental health-related challenges than in education. The stigma around educator mental health is generally driven by the presumption of how it would be interpreted by others. Principals, for instance, often work in fear of having their leadership abilities questioned if they admitted to experiencing depression or anxiety. Teachers worry what parents would say if they found out their child’s teacher has bipolar disorder, or had a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder, or that they missed two months of school last year due to depression. None of these experiences have anything to do with the principal being able to lead or the teacher being able to teach. And, although there are some parents who would be completely supportive and understand that mental illness, like physical illness, does not take away from the educator’s skill set or make them a dangerous person to be around; it only takes one person, whether a parent or colleague or even student, who doesn’t understand mental illness, to turn what is already a stressful situation for the educator into something much, much worse.
The job of being an educator is already all-consuming for people who are well; but for those who are not, the job can quickly become a never-ending cycle of constantly trying to catch up, while falling further behind on managing the constant demands. When fear and stigma are added to the mix, it can have devastating effects, and it is why so many educators suffer in silence, wait so long to ask for assistance, or even end up leaving the profession altogether.
It is for these reasons that days like today are so necessary and so powerful. Mental illness is not something to be avoided or hidden; it is a normal part of the lives of Canadians, the same as any other illness. If we are to continue to grow as a country we need to keep talking about mental illness, keep educating ourselves, and keep challenging those who discriminate against people who are experiencing mental illness. Like the video above, Bell has put together a number of excellent commercials throughout their campaign, showing how easy it can be to change the narrative.
Bell Let’s Talk outlines five ways to communicate with and show support for those who experience mental illness:
- Language matters: Pay attention to the words you use about mental illness
- Educate yourself: Learn, know and talk more, understand signs
- Be kind: Small acts of kindness speak a lot
- Listen and ask: Sometimes it’s best to just listen
- Talk about it: Start a dialogue, break the silence
If we all just started with these five points, we would be well on our way to normalizing mental illness and providing people with the support they need. At The Well Teacher and humanworks press, we believe in destigmatizing mental illness and ensuring that everyone has access to mental health resources when they need it. This is why we are committed to donating $5 from every copy of The Well Teacher sold from our website today, on January 30, 2019, to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in support of clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion. By investing in your own wellness, through the purchase of The Well Teacher, you are also helping to support fellow Canadians experiencing addiction- and mental-health-related challenges.
Get your own copy of The Well Teacher here.
For additional information on mental health:
Bell Let’s Talk
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Canadian Mental Health Association