Breaking the Stigma One Story at a Time

Tomorrow is Bell Let’s Talk day, an initiative aimed at breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and raising funds to help mental healthcare in Canada. Since its launch in 2010, this campaign has evolved into so much more. It’s become an opportunity for many people to share their stories. To let the world have a glimpse of what it’s like to live with mental illness and mental health struggles.

Over the past eight years, I’ve shared parts of my story many times. I’ve shared moments I had never publicly spoken of before. I let people into the darkest parts of my mind. And, of course, I also shared about hope.

But I can only share my story so many times before it becomes an echo.

Last year, I shared someone else’s story. This year, I’ll be sharing several people’s stories. If there’s one thing I have learned being an advocate to mental health, it’s that far more people struggle every day than we could ever imagine.

Today, if you live in Canada, see how you can help. Find the many ways you can help to raise money through Bell tomorrow. Inundate friends and family who are on Bell’s networks with calls and texts. If you’re on Bell’s network, inundate your friends and family anyway.

And of course, take the time to read the stories from people who face mental health battles every day. Mental Illness and mental health struggles are not a sign of weakness. It takes great strength to face them daily, to be able to stand up, move forward, and live our lives.

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*In order to protect the individual sharing, their name has been changed in this story. Although great strides have been made, the stigma surrounding mental health is all too real. Often, simply knowing one’s struggle can result in loss of — or more difficulty at — an individual’s job.

Although I’ve known Jane since high school, we didn’t really become friends until shortly after I was married. Our paths crossed, friends groups intermingled, but it wasn’t until our adult years we really came to know one another.

Jane is bubbly and cheerful, with a heart big enough to hold many, many people in it. She loves animals, she loves life, and adores her friends. But the last few years have been difficult for her. Diagnosed with depression and anxiety, the darkness she battles seeps into every part of her life.

“The hardest part is trying to keep friends,” she explained. “You really want them, and you love them, but you never see them. It’s always a handful of reasons why you can’t go out and spend time with them. You are exhausted, frightened of leaving that safe spot, and you shake just thinking about the world.

Eventually, those friends stop asking you to hang out.

I believe that is the hardest thing I have to deal with. Watching them walk away when you are silently begging them to stay.”

For most of us, we realize we are fighting something beyond our control once the darkness gets strongest. The most difficult part of the overall battle is being able to say something about it.

“Admitting I needed help was my hardest battle,” Jane said. “I overcame it when I hit the lowest part my body could stand. I had two choices: to live or end it all. I figured I would give it one more shot and take all the help I could find.”

Even after deciding to get help, the journey can get more difficult. Mental health resources are still scarce, even with a renewed initiative to increase access.

Wait lists are long, and people often get lost within the system.

“I really had trouble [getting help] with this because my only option at the time was a doctor,” Jane said. “Crisis centres were too busy, and the doctor’s reaction was to toss pills at me. Medication did help, but I think I needed more than that. A combination of medication and counseling would have been a better route.”

She added that due to much of the stigma around mental health, people often misuse the terminology, which can cause people to write off the illness.

“What doesn’t help is that people who have a bad day call it depression — it shows a lack of knowledge to the general public,” she explained. “Because of that, people don’t take this condition seriously enough.”

Despite her ongoing battle, Jane remains hopeful that she will pull through.

“I think the key to getting up every day is everyone around me. They push me to fight and show me the value of my life.”

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