If you show up for work with a bad cough and a runny nose, most people won’t hesitate to tell you to see a doctor or get treatment. But mental illnesses like anxiety or depression don’t always come with visible symptoms. In fact, in many cases, the only way of knowing is if the affected person tells others.
In a society where we ask “how are you?” without even waiting for an answer, it’s easy to see why people might think no one cares to hear.
It’s our job to let them know we do.
That’s the motivation behind Bell Let’s Talk Day. Every year on January 25th, Bell encourages everyone to talk about mental health via any medium. As incentive, they donate 5¢ for every tweet, post, snap, or call.
The point is to make speaking about mental health normal and end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“We all need to take responsibility,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “No one is immune; everyone is affected by mental illness directly or indirectly.”
And so far, it seems to be working.
According to a 2015 Neilsen survey, 81% of Canadians were more aware of mental health issues since 2010, 70% think attitudes about mental health have changed for the better, and 57% believe that the stigma around mental illness has been reduced.
Putting money where your Tweets are
But Bell Let’s Talk isn’t just about awareness: since 2010, the campaign has raised over $79 million towards mental health programs. Their Community Fund functions all year round to provide grants for projects and organizations, including universities, to improve mental health services.
“Mental health should be funded on par with physical health, especially when you consider that the burden of mental health is one-and-a-half times that of all cancers and seven times that of all infectious diseases,” says Rosie Smythe, Director at the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health, an organization that helps Ontario’s colleges and universities enhance capacity to support student mental health and well-being.
After all, isn’t an injury to our emotions, the very core of our personality, just as serious and worthy of attention as an injury to our physical body?
Yet Canada devotes only 7% of public health care funds to mental health.
“Campuses are also struggling with few resources and a lack of funding in this area. And despite the best efforts of campuses to assist those experiencing mental health problems, there is more work to be done,” says Smythe.
Last year, the Ontario University and College Health Association reported a campus mental health crisis, with increased rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among 25,000 surveyed students.
That’s where extra funding from campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk could make a difference.
In 2014, the University of Alberta received $10,000 to improve their mental health online resources. This year, McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital received $250,000 from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund for the development of online mental health resources focused on the needs of multicultural communities.
You Tweeted, now what?
So you called, you tweeted, you read a few posts from your friends. But your work doesn’t stop there, because mental illness is not just limited to one day a year.
Don’t worry though, your homework should be pretty easy.
Ditch the dismissive attitude. Be available. Listen.
And if you want to take it a step further, take a course for anti-stigma training, suicide prevention training, or mental health first aid (options below).
“We need to have the same attitudes towards mental illness as we do for physical illness,” says Dr. Kamkar.
Whether or not it’s diagnosed, constant or intermittent, or has a formal name, your suffering matters and you don’t need to suffer alone. Here are some places that will listen.
Good to Talk
Kids Help Phone (up to age 20!)
Ontario Mental Health Helpline
Alberta Mental Health Helpline
Here to Help BC
Klinic Crisis Support (Manitoba)
CHIMO Helpline (New Brunswick)
Nova Scotia Mental Health
The Island Helpline (PEI)
811 Helpline Newfoundland
Memorial University – Mental health services
University of PEI – Student Health Centre
Dalhousie University – Thrive
University of New Brunswick – Counselling services
McGill University – Mental Health Hub
Université de Montréal – Ressources en santé mentale
University of Toronto – Health and Wellness Centre
McMaster University – Mental Health Services
University of Waterloo – Health Services
University of Western Ontario – Health and Wellness Centre
University of Manitoba – Mental health on campus
University of Saskatchewan – Counselling services
University of Alberta – Student Wellness
University of Calgary – SU Wellness Centre
UBC – Thrive at UBC
Canadian mental health association – Many resources including public mental health policy
AmiQuébec – Variety of literature and resources about mental health
Mental Health Commission – Informational webinars, online anti-stigma training and more
Portico Network – clinical tools and evidence-based materials for health care providers, social service workers and others
Mental Health First Aid Canada – Training to aid people in mental health crisis
QPR suicide prevention training ($30 cost, but often offered for free through Universities. Inquire at yours!)