So, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign ran again this past week. It seems the issue of mental health is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. I’ve seen a lot of people coming out of the shadows this week and sharing their personal stories of lived experience. I want to talk about why I have mixed emotions about that.
First off, I’ll start with the positive. I think it’s really great that we’re ending the silence. I believe that at some point, everyone will experience a mental health issue. It may not look as serious and scary as say, psychosis. It might be something like mild anxiety or depression, which you could argue are comparatively tame. I don’t put much stock into the commonly cited statistic that 1/3 people will experience a mental health concern. Everyone will, not just a third of us. Maybe it’s true that just 1/3 people will be diagnosed with a mental illness and have to receive medical treatment, but that is a different statement. Mental health is something we all have to deal with because we all have minds. No one can go their whole lives without having to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally.
I also think it’s probably beneficial to society that Bell is donating money for mental health initiatives. I can’t really say, because I don’t know how that money is distributed and what causes it’s actually going toward. I think it kinda sucks though that we have to rely on a corporation to address this issue as opposed to say, Health Canada. I think it’s a tricky thing when corporations start fundraising for philanthropic causes. It’s a PR move. If this initiative didn’t benefit their business, they wouldn’t be doing it.
That brings me into the big problem I have with this campaign. There’s a whole lot being tweeted and texted without anything actually being said. I’ve seen a lot of generic platitudes like “end the stigma” and “support people with mental illness.” I think it’s great to express your support and let people know you care. But the problem is that campaigns like these fool people into thinking we’re doing something significant about this issue. We’re not. It’s like saying Valentine’s Day teaches us how to love one another. It doesn’t. It’s an excuse to be romantic for a day, until you wake up on February 15th and start acting like a jackass again. The same BS with Thanksgiving, where we feel grateful for a grand total of 24 hours. You can’t take a complicated issue like this, tweet a bunch of nice phrases and then expect things to change. We’re not actually discussing anything.
What about the specific issues? Where are the debates on that? Why don’t we educate people on things like side effects to antidepressants, PTSD from serving in the military, drug-induced psychosis, the prevalence of suicide rates among aboriginals and LGTBQ youth, the rates of sexual trauma within religious organizations, the perceived infallibility of doctors in white coats with medical degrees? In our soundbite culture we can’t talk about these things in a way that actually makes a difference to anyone. I’m still waiting for Bell to air an intellectual, unbiased discussion on pharmaceutical medications versus alternative therapies. Instead we get celebrities saying very nice, but very useless things so that people will be more inclined to support this campaign.
And I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m just saying let’s move away from the idea that everything can be solved in 140 characters.
If you care so much about people’s mental health, then don’t wait until the one day of a year where they feel safe enough to talk about it. Reach out to them on a personal level, listen to what they’ve been through, learn from it. Because like I said, it’s not an us versus you issue. We all have obstacles that block our path to wellness. It is in everyone’s best interest to truly educate themselves on the topic. One of these days, it could be you begging people to listen.