Today is Bell Let’s talk day. For readers who aren’t Canadian. Bell Let’s Talk Day is an event promoted by the Bell Company. The company promotes talking about mental illness and reducing the stigma associated with it. For every text and mention of the #BellLetsTalk on social media today, January 25th, Bell donates 5 cents to mental health initiatives.
I think this is a great project. For some reason though I’ve never participated before but I’m going to remedy that this year.
Now why is it important to talk about mental health? For many reasons, but the main one in my opinion is that it shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. According to The Canadian Mental Health Association 20% of Canadians will experience mental health illness at some point in their life. There are 36,478,469 people in Canada (according to worldometers.com) which means, assuming the statistics are correct, that’s around 7,295,693 people in Canada alone who experience mental illness in some point in their lives.
That’s a significant number of people. Yet it’s still something that’s not discussed as much as it should be. How do I know this? In my life so far I have suffered from both OCD and anxiety yet I can tell you that only maybe 2 of my friends know about this. One is my lifelong friend that I’ve had since second grade and the other is someone who also suffers from anxiety (I guess the cats out of the bag now though…). Why don’t I mention it more often you might ask. If I think it’s nothing to be ashamed of why don’t I speak about it? The reason for this is the connotations that are still stuck to most mental illness. I might have OCD and anxiety but that it does not mean the same thing to me than it does to someone who has never experienced it. Not everyone is accepting of people with mental illness, most often because they don’t know all the information. Then there’s the fact that some people generalize mental illness by the things they do know.
I will explain this better with an example of one of my pet peeves. Keep in mind that this is one personal example of a pet-peeve/ reaction I get that’s associated with anxiety that gets on my nerves, but that everyone is different and the same things might not bother someone else.
On multiple occasions people who know about my anxiety (family, doctors, friends, bosses etc…) will respond this way when I have a problem (I’ve mostly seen this when I let someone know I am not feeling well). “Are you sure it’s not just anxiety?” “Don’t worry, you’re probably just anxious”
These people mean no harm. There honestly trying to help. But to me it sounds like “your exaggerating, what you’re feeling, it isn’t real, you need to calm down” and let me tell you be it anxiety or not what I feel is as real to me as it will ever be. I am fully aware that when I am sick or under stress anxiety can be a contributing factor, but I when I feel unwell and the only cause is anxiety I know the difference between being sick and anxious and feeling sick because I am anxious. I learnt how to tell the difference a while ago.
So when you tell someone are you sure it’s not just anxiety, know that that does not help. It kind of undermines what I am feeling and also what will it achieve? What do you think is going to happen? I am going to be like oh, wow I had no idea, thank you for telling me how I feel, I will now press this magical internal button and make it stop! It doesn’t work like that I wish it did but it doesn’t.
So what can you say instead? In my opinion these are some good ones:
· Hey I see you aren’t feeling well. Can I help with anything.
· You aren’t feeling well? Did anything bring this on.
· I know you have anxiety is this part of it? (if answer is no accept it and don’t push it! No matter what you think the real issue is)
The main thing in all of these questions is not assuming you know what is going on. If the person says they aren’t feeling well and you perceive things that point to it maybe being anxiety but when you ask they say no don’t push your opinion on the other person, listen, be supportive of whatever they are feeling and even if they continue to deny having anxiety, let them. Whether they are telling the truth or not, just being there and talking things through or supporting them in what their feeling helps immensely! (at least it does for me)
So that’s one of my personal experiences with anxiety and an example of the point above. Now going back to my main point being that mental illness has many different connotations. Every mental illness has some stereotypes while some have a bit of truth in them, you need to take into account that everyone is different and reacts and or copes with mental illness in different ways. This means that there’s not one size fits all when it comes to mental illness. The best way to find out what a person is dealing with is to talk about it.
This discussion needs to go both ways. People with mental illness need to speak up and stop being afraid of what others might think. People who know of someone with mental illness have to create a welcoming environment where it’s OK and accepted that others have different ways to deal with things or that their battling something that no one else can “see” but themselves.
I admit I am scared of what others will think if I let my history with mental illness slip. It’s hard to know how they will react. But for change to happen, people on both sides need to speak out so that in the future our courage to talk about the subject will permit others to talk more freely and stop people from suffering alone for no reason. There’s no reason to be ashamed. My past of OCD and my present with anxiety is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me or what I can do. The more people speak up and discuss the subject, the more people will understand it better and the more people will be able to see that while it can sometimes suck (because honestly I’m not going to lie, living in past with OCD or anxiety currently is no a walk in the park or bring fond memories) it’s not a determinant on a person’s character or what they can do. It’s matter of trying to understand what they’re going through.
So what are we waiting for? We got some talking to do. Because I don’t know about you but while I know a fair bit about OCD and anxiety (which this blog post barely scratched the surface of), having experienced both, I know next to nothing on the multiple other mental health problems out there. So let’s all be journalists and uncover the true story on what people are living with. Let’s open a discussion and reduce the stigma on mental illness, and in the process create some understanding and acceptance in a world that is in desperate need of it.