Breaking the stigma

Lucas Misera

Last week, CanaBell Let’s Talk, a multi-year charity program dedicated to mental health, ran its annual promotion to raise money for mental health awareness. By donating five cents every time a call, text or tweet mentioned the program, Bell Let’s Talk raised over $6 million for mental health studies and charities across Canada. It’s a welcomed first step in ending the stigma surrounding mental illness, but there’s much more work to be done.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there’s approximately an 18 percent chance that an adult in the United States will suffer from some disorder, while 4 percent of Americans will suffer from a condition powerful enough to affect that individual’s functionality and lifestyle. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a list of the leading causes of death, with self-harm being 10th on the list.

Mental illness is shockingly prevalent in the U.S. today, but many often diminish the severity of such conditions. To be clear, these conditions are physiologically or biologically driven, making them as “real” as any physical ailment. The brain’s complexity has left much to be understood about how we mentally function, but it’s becoming clear as science advances that many mental illnesses are a result of how we are individually wired.

Despite a growing understanding of how our bodies function, many feel shame over such conditions. Phrases such as “it’s all in your head” or “get over it” diminish the legitimacy of a mental disorder, contributing to a greater stigma surrounding mental health.

The Mayo Clinic has a plethora of information surrounding the stigma associated with mental health. Listed on Mayo’s website are the effects of negative attention for those affected, and the list is extensive. Whether becoming more introverted, facing tougher conditions in the workplace or feeling less motivated to seek help, negative attention can take a devastating toll on somebody who may already be struggling.

Bell Let’s Talk Day is the most effective way of raising awareness for one primary reason: it forces people to talk. For 24 hours, the public unleashes a flood of positivity for those who might be affected or are afraid to seek help. Making mental health taboo only contributes to the stigma, so more open conversation will undoubtedly help the cause.

As much as we talk about fighting cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses, adding mental health to the conversation will prove to be beneficial. Rather than shaming those who suffer from a disorder because of it appearing strange or complicated, society needs to remind these individuals that they are surrounded by a community willing to fight the illness alongside them. Bell Let’s Talk Day is an excellent start to breaking the stigma, but we each need to make an effort to talk about mental health more than once a year.