In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, I felt both compelled and inspired to write a post about the importance of supporting mental health. Firstly, if you aren’t familiar with Bell Let’s Talk, it’s a huge mental health campaign all across Canada, sponsored by, you guessed it, Bell Canada. It focuses on awareness and destigmatization, in addition to ongoing research surrounding mental health issues. January 25th is Bell Let’s Talk day, which means that each time the hashtag #BellLetsTalk is used, Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. You can read more about it here.
Just based on statistics alone, it should come as no surprise that I’ve struggled with mental health issues personally. I’m sure I’ll get into specific details in a later post, but for now I want to talk about how important it is to seek help when you need it. I’ve been to counsellors, psychiatrists, and psychologists over the past several years, all of which have likely saved my life in different ways. The thing is, I wouldn’t have made it to any of them if not for caring friends, teachers, and doctors prior to that.
Ironically, Bell Let’s Talk day happens to also be my first day starting a new psychotherapy program. I haven’t been in a couple of years, but lately I’ve been feeling like I might need that extra support. I’m genuinely excited about it. I’m also proud of myself for being able to recognize that it’s something I need to do to be at my best, and that I deserve exactly that.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, it is essential to break free from isolation and reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be a professional right away, although I highly recommend that, you just need to let someone know that something is going on with you. If you don’t feel like you can trust a friend or a relative, reach out to a teacher, a co-worker, or your family doctor. If you can’t think of a single person you know you who you can go to, call a crisis line. There are so many now and I guarantee if you search one in your area, something will come up. At the extreme, if you feel that your life may be in danger, call 911.
My point is that you need to take responsibility for your wellbeing by reaching out. Trust me, I know how difficult this can be. I remember once, soon after my parents divorced, a caring teacher kept me after class to ask if I was alright and if I wanted to talk. I told her that I’d been having panic attacks ever since my parents split up, and she just listened. I must have talked to her for an hour. It wasn’t something I planned at all, but once I’d finished talking, I found myself wishing I’d said something sooner.
Years after that, I worked up the courage to go to a doctor in order to get a referral to a psychologist. It was the first time I’d ever opened up to a doctor about things that I’d been doing and feeling. I didn’t feel comfortable going to the family doctor I’d had my whole life, so I found a different one that I’d never met. Sitting in the waiting room that day was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Part of me felt like I was at a police station about to confess to a murder. I was scared that if I told a professional about my situation, I’d get thrown away in a padded room and labelled as ‘crazy’ for the rest of my life.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The doctor I met showed me what empathy really looks like. He showed me the upmost compassion and care, and more importantly he showed me why it’s so important to reach out. I left his office that day with my referral, and with more hope than I ever imagined I’d feel again. He kept emphasizing that because I took the step to seek help, I would overcome this rough period in my life. He made me believe that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and that because I made the effort to get better, I would find it, and be free. He was right.
If you suspect that someone you know is struggling, find the courage to approach them. Even the smallest gesture of support could be life changing, or even life saving, for that person. If you’re worried about using the wrong words, don’t be. Any version of support that you’re willing to extend is going to be better than nothing.
Ultimately, you’re just trying to convey that you care, and that you are ready and willing to listen without judgement. The person may not respond to your invitation right away, but at least you’ve made it known that you are available. If you think this needs to be repeated, don’t be afraid to do that either. Too much support will always be better than too little. Again, at the extreme, if you suspect that someone’s life may be in danger, do not hesitate to call 911.
The final thing I want to say is how important it is to just be kind and compassionate to one another. As cliché as it may sound, you truly don’t know what it’s like to walk in anyone else’s shoes. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, literally or figuratively. Mental health struggles are very often entirely hidden. It is both naïve and ignorant to assume that someone is behaving in an unpleasant way purely out of malicious intent. Try giving difficult people the benefit of the doubt. You might be surprised where it leads.