Working to end the stigma around mental illness

In the past several decades, strides have been made to fight the stigma surrounding mental health issues so that people suffering...

In the past several decades, strides have been made to fight the stigma surrounding mental health issues so that people suffering from various mental illnesses aren’t afraid or ashamed to get help.

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Bell Canada donated five cents for every cell phone call, text message, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter used on its network to mental health initiatives as part of its Bell Let’s Talk campaign.

The media company has run the campaign every January now for several years, choosing January – known for its post-Christmas, midwinter doldrums – as the time to draw attention to mental illnesses.

Changing how people view mental illnesses is the first step in ensuring everyone who needs help gets help, according to Nathan Gibson, media relations with Bell Canada.

“Using words like ‘loco’ or ‘schitzo’ can be really stigmatizing,” he said.

Each year, more than half a million Canadians end up missing work because of a mental health problem or illness, and it is the No. 1 cause of disability claims in Canada, according to the mental health commission of Canada.

There are several options available to Canadians who need help, though 911 is available to people in crisis.

Youth can contact Kids Help Phone, which offers both online resources as well as a 24/7 anonymous phone line at 1-800-668-6868.

Adults can reach out to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which offers free services to people suffering from mental illness, or those who have family members suffering from mental illness.

Learning how to speak to people about, or with, mental illnesses is but one step, but also learning the difference between fact and myth is vital, Gibson said.

Some myths include that children can’t suffer from depression, depression is normal as people age, mental illnesses are just excuses for poor behaviour, and bad parenting causes mental illnesses.

None of that is necessarily true, according to CMHA.

In many cases, mental illnesses come to the forefront of terrible cases, such as court cases like those of Luka Magnotta and Vince Li, or are portrayed as a joke or quirk in television and movies.

Most importantly, “mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments,” CMHA representatives said.

The money raised on Jan. 25 goes into Bell’s Let’s Talk grants, which offer up grant money for mental health institutions ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.