We Need to Talk About Mental Health

bell1In Canada, yesterday was #BellLetsTalk day, an event one of our larger telecommunications companies began some years ago to advance the awareness of mental health issues and reduce the stigmas surrounding them. It’s actually rather brilliantly done, too, considering how it uses various social media platforms to offer a distinct reward for those who do talk about it. Bell (Bell Canada when I was growing up), donates five cents to a fund every time that hashtag was tweeted, retweeted, or posted. Yesterday, my resiliency was way down because of some very frustrating minor events that all seemed to come one after another, so I didn’t participate as much as I had in the past, but later in the evening, when I couldn’t sleep, I did begin retweeting shit like a boss.

In total since the program started in 2011, there has been 597,360,644 interactions recorded, for $125,915,295 that Bell uses to support various things like grants to organisations supporting youth, aboriginal communities, and military family groups; grants to over 600,000 individuals needing help and support; crisis lines and volunteer training and technology development; and so much more. For a full breakdown, visit the website here: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Of course, that seems spectacular, and it really is, and it seems that so many people were talking that you might think the stigma surrounding mental health is a ghost of what it once was. Unfortunately, I pop onto Facebook to check my 70 bajillion notifications to find this little gem, posted by someone I don’t know personally but is on my list because he’s a paramedic in a city I once worked in and we have mutual friends:

There has been so many posts on here in regard to so many individuals dealing with mental health such as depression/ anxiety, PTSD, SAD, etc, etc. We are giving out SSRI’s like candy. What’s wrong with people…. NOTHING! People are being made to believe there is something wrong with us. Wake up everyone. Its not an individual problem, it’s a society problems. We’ve lost our way as a society. We no longer show that we care about our fellow man (women), we make high/ unrealistic expectations. We want instant gratification. Little things like holding the door for someone doesn’t matter anymore, etc. these things have an impact. People’s mental health issues is a symptom of the times.

I’m pretty sure there’s a crapload more like that out there, but I tend to trim my list to avoid those who might normally upset my calm (healthy coping mechanism, not an infringement of anyone’s right to expression, thank you), so the stigma is still a going concern. Granted, I could very well have misunderstood his message, but I don’t think I did.

In 2003, when I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I was rather naive about the depth to which the warrior culture I was immersed in fell. Suddenly, I recognised a major problem that others might have but were too afraid to discuss, so I was very open about it, posting on an email list Toronto medics used at the time since social media was still just a sparkle in some horny Harvard student’s eye. I was smacked down pretty quickly. One time, just back after a few months of leave to recharge and deal, I was working with a young guy who had been on the road for maybe six months, but had the arrogance and misguided confidence of someone who thought they knew exactly how the world worked. I’m sure you know the type. On the way to a call one night, he started accelerating the ambulance before slamming on the brakes. He did this a few times, looking over at me with a child-like grin and asking, “Feeling stressed yet, Patrick?”

At the hospital afterwards I called my supervisor and complained, but got lip service and advice on how to get along, so I just booked off and went home.

There was graffiti on my locker, graffiti about me in the medic rooms of some hospitals, whispered conversations and sideways glances, and more than a couple people who refused to work with me because, you know, I was crazy. We call this sort of thing a hostile work environment now, but the old school way of handling things was still very much in effect, and my employer, when I tried to complain, would pat me on the head. One supervisor (they call them superintendents now) actually said, “kids will be kids,” as if I should just get used to it. This was the same guy who gossiped with my coworkers about my drinking problem, a story I told in Compassion & Moral Injuries.

My response to this friend’s post this morning was calm and considered. I said:

I disagree. There has been a paradigm shift in our culture to be sure, but a positive one, where issues that were normally hidden, embarrassing, humiliating, and kept close to the chest are now being openly discussed. That is a healthy thing, and so is the general social evolution we’re experiencing. People still open doors for each other. The fact that we’re talking about this stuff, stuff that’s always been around to the same degree it is now, is much more indicative of how much people do care, not that we’re caring less.

It makes my heart fill with joy to see people so open about a problem I had to keep hidden for so long, and because of that made it so difficult for me to get better that I am still trying to, almost 15 years later. We are growing as a species, and noticeably within my lifetime (Yay us!). Still, there’s too much darkness and preconceptions about mental health, lingering about like a chilly draft you can’t find the source of.

That’s the reason for #BellLetsTalk, and other programs like it. That’s why we need to keep talking about it with zeal and fervour, like I am, again, finally, and why you should too.

Pictured above is Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, an officer of The Order of Canada, and the spokesperson for the Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign. Used with absolutely no permission at all.

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