Bell Canada has popularized the yearly “Let’s Talk” campaign to draw attention to mental health and to combat stigma.
Now in its eleventh year, the campaign aims to get people talking about mental health issues. However, such talk cannot be confined to one day a year. Especially right now as we live through a pandemic.
Data suggests that Canadians are experiencing a tsunami of mental health issues, so our honest admission that we are struggling needs to be ongoing.
And just as some of us need to talk, some of us need to listen – really listen.
It takes courage to talk about one’s mental health challenges. I know because I live with bipolar disorder, and I have and continue to talk publicly about my experience of both the illness and my journey towards stability and health.
It took me years after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder to be able to talk publicly about my experience.
The diagnosis left me profoundly ashamed. I was drowning in shame. And I internalized that shame and felt stigmatized as a result. Shame kept me ill in terms of low-level symptoms of depression. Shame kept me isolated.
Shame felt like a weight. A dead weight. Part of me was dead when I was weighted down by stigma. Some days I felt the weight of the stigma was heavier than the weight of the illness.
However, as I started to talk about my experience, that weight lifted ounce by ounce.
And as my shame diminished, so did the low-level depressive symptoms I suffered.
Talking – and being listened to – was medicinal.
When I started to talk about my mental health challenges, people listened. My honesty created a space for others to be honest, and I could listen to them. Our talking and listening created a safe space for honest reflection about our experiences. We were not alone. We could advocate for change.
Shame kept me ill. Sharing helped me become healthy.
Talk is cheap if no one listens.
Listening is as important as speaking.
On Bell Let’s Talk day, let’s resolve to a) talk about our mental health challenges, and b) listen to others’ experiences of their mental health challenges.
Nothing will change if we don’t talk about mental health. However, nothing will change if we don’t listen, as well.
We need to do both—talk and listen.