Generational change offers real hope for end to mental illness stigma

16 Jan

“I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.”

“We could both use a vacation, too.”

If you haven’t caught this year’s wave of Bell Let’s Talk ads yet, you must be living off-grid somewhere. They are all over the airwaves now and social media are abuzz with them in the run up to “Bell Let’s Talk Day” on January 28.

But if you’re unfamiliar with Bell Let’s Talk, here’s a quick primer.

On January 28, for every single long-distance call or text message on the Bell network — and for every Facebook share of its BLT images or tweet/retweet of #BellLetsTalk on Twitter, regardless of your telecom network — Ma Bell will donate 5 cents towards mental health initiatives in Canada.

The Bell Let’s Talk campaign raised almost $5.5 million for mental health last year.

At the heart of Bell Media’s 2015 Let’s Talk campaign is an invitation to Canadians to learn 5 simple ways to help end the stigma around mental illness:

· Language matters – pay attention to the words you use about mental illness

· Educate yourself – learn, know and talk more, understand the 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

Sadly, the focus of this year’s campaign is dead-on. Significant work remains to reduce stigma around mental health issues. Among the “low lights” found in a 2008 survey conducted by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA):

· The majority of Canadians say they would be unlikely to hire a person with a mental
illness as a lawyer (58%), child care worker (58%), financial advisor (58%) or family
doctor (61%).

· A majority of Canadians (55%) say they would be unlikely to enter a spousal relationship with someone who has a mental illness.

· Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.

· 46% of Canadians think people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour.

· 42% of Canadians are unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness.

Sure, the data is over 6 years old. But when it comes to changing attitudes and beliefs, progress is painstakingly slow.

There are positive signs that progress is being made through anti-stigma campaigns. Inspired by the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, one Calgary teen recently stepped up to get his high school mates talking about mental health.

Brett Rothery invited fellow students at Crescent Heights High School to donate five cents to mental health initiatives for every tweet that includes the hashtag #CHHSLetsTalk. His initial goal was to raise $500 for the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

His campaign has since gone viral, generating at the time of writing these lines just over 125,000 social media impressions and raising in excess of $21,000 for CMHA.

But more importantly, Rothery’s campaign has engaged his peers and teens both across the country and around the world. They are opening up about their own struggles with mental health issues, raising awareness by sharing their stories.

Through their actions, these teen are fighting stigma to gain acceptance from their peers and for people with mental illness in general.

It may require generational change, but through anti-stigma campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk and the efforts of up-and-coming leaders like Rothery, there are hopeful signs we will one day treat mental illnesses as seriously as we do physical illnesses.

Meanwhile, let’s keep talking.

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Posted by on January 16, 2015 in Blog


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