I think this is an insightful perspective into the impact Bell Let’s Talk day has on the mental health movement. I have to admit it is one of my favourite days on social media, it’s incredibly inspiring to see so many people open up for the first time and share their experiences or words of positive encouragement for those going through mental illness. However, it’s also incredibly sad and frustrating at the same time to see so many people suffering in silence and unable to find the resources they need to lead a meaningful life.
Mental health treatment is expensive. Trust me, I know. I was fortunate to have the support of my family in paying for a psychologist (not covered by OHIP), which would set me back about 110 dollars for every one hour appointment. At one point I was going 3 to 4 days a week for almost 4 months at my lowest point 3 years ago. Waiting for a psychiatrist (covered by OHIP) took almost 2 months to get an initial appointment and even so most of the time they just give you medication and direct you to other resources such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or other forms of talk therapy. For most people many of these resources are simply unaccessible and unaffordable. Even on campuses across Canada, there’s often long wait lists to get into counselling on campus. I was told to explore options off campus to gain faster access and because I was covered by insurance outside of the school, meaning I could try my luck and get covered somewhere else but it was unlikely.
Your brain is apart of your body. I don’t understand why people face so much discrimination to get a “check up” on their brain. We get yearly physicals for the rest of our body, why should someone feel ashamed to talk about what’s going on in their head. I mean any pain someone feels is subjective, so why is it any different on thought process. When we feel “sick” whether it be the flu, a cold, or even a migraine, many of us stay home to “rest” and feel better and don’t face any shame in doing so. But as soon as someone says I stayed home because my anxiety was too high, that’s when people’s perspective starts to change.
It’s great to see a national conversation and even international to some extent, but it is simply not enough to talk about it for one day. We should be talking about it every day until it’s normalized. But more importantly we need to hold accountability to our words. We say we want to remove the stigma and make care accessible, but yet people seem to stop talking about it as soon as the day is done. We need to do more than just talk, we need to take action. Whether it be advocating at your school to encourage more funding into mental health or encouraging and lobbying our politicians to integrate more funding into mental health resources. Mental health should play a bigger role in the renewals of the provincial health accords both in terms of primary health care but also in health education. Many mental illnesses begin in childhood, if we can find ways to remove barriers when children are young, train teachers and other child educators to recognize signs early on, we can save many people from going down a long road of recovery and give them the resources early on to cope later on in life.
The conversation shouldn’t stop today. We should be holding people with power accountable for their words of wanting to make changes to our mental health care system. PM Justin Trudeau wants to be part of the movement remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, so let’s hold him accountable in creating dialogue with our provinces and territories in allowing people to access the care and supports they need to feel right again.
Don’t stop the conversation.
Today is #BellLetsTalk day. It’s supposed to reduce stigma around mental health by getting Canadians to talk about. It also helps raise money for mental health initiatives and programs. Aside from the fact that mental health awareness gets coopted by a massive corporation for one day, I have other qualms about throwing my support behind the movement.
Bell Let’s Talk assumes that one of the major keys to fighting mental illness is simply by talking about it. By sharing my experience on social media, I’m supposed to be on my way to feeling better. By tweeting “Let’s talk, today and every day!” I’m supporting others dealing with depression, anxiety, and other issues in a way that’s helpful and meaningful.
But mental illness doesn’t work like that. And it certainly doesn’t work like that in Canada.
Last year, I went through a tough time. I spent days in bed crying. It was hard to feel motivated to bathe, feed myself, let alone venture outside. I wanted to disappear.
I was really lucky that my manager and workplace understood and gave me time off to deal with what I was going through. But many working Canadians aren’t that lucky. People who are paid hourly lose pay for missing work. Even salaried employees can be reprimanded, demoted and fired for having to deal with mental health issues. Each year on #BellLetsTalk day, a number of former Bell employees come forward with their own stories of how Bell doesn’t actually care about their mental well-being.
Eventually, I started therapy. It was expensive, but because I had a job and some savings, I was able to afford it. I also have health benefits, but it covers psychiatry not psychotherapy. Psychiatry tends to be more expensive, so $500 of insurance only gets you around two or three sessions. Plus, do you know how long the waitlist is to see a psychiatrist in Canada?
Once a week, I’d leave work early to make it to my therapy appointment. Again, my manager was amazing and never made it a big deal. I feel so lucky. I was never docked pay or asked to produce a doctor’s note. Many Canadians aren’t afforded the same luxury.
Months after starting therapy, I found that no matter what I was doing to help myself, I still couldn’t shake off feelings of sadness, panic and anxiety. It was difficult to imagine a future, let alone plan a week ahead. I felt anxious whenever I had to see people or be in social situations. I couldn’t focus on work or anything. No matter how much I exercised, I couldn’t feel confident or the jolt of endorphins that used to come to me so easily.
So I went to my doctor. I’m pretty lucky that despite moving to a new city, I was able to secure a family doctor by recommendation. Most Canadians don’t have access to a regular, family doctor and rely on walk-in clinics, which require waiting around for hours, missing work and other responsibilities.
My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I knew that giving it a try would be the best course of action, but it was still difficult for me to accept this reality. I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just feel like my old self again? I felt like a failure.
After thinking about it for a week, I filled the prescription. My pills are expensive, but my health insurance covers nearly the entire cost. I’m lucky that as a full-time employee, my workplace provides health insurance coverage. I can’t imagine having to pay for these medications otherwise. No wonder so many Canadians are never able to get the help they need.
At first, I felt just about every negative side-effect my doctor had told me about – drowsiness during the day and insomnia at night, heart palpitations, dry mouth, nausea and dizziness. But after about two weeks, those feelings went away, and now I can say with certainty that my medication has really helped me. I’m lucky to have found something that worked so quickly.
I still go to therapy and I don’t expect to be on antidepressants forever. But If I do, that’s ok, too. Mental health, however, is so much more than just talking about it. It’s more than a hashtag and getting Canadians to open up about it for a day.
It can be an extremely lonely experience. It can feel frustrating and seemingly inexplicable. I’ve found it helpful to talk to my friends about it, but I’ve also found comfort in online movements like #TalkingAboutIt, which is used 365 days of the year – not just one – and support groups like the Bunz Mental Health Zone on Facebook.
But to truly make a difference on the mental health of all Canadians, we need to be doing so much more. We need the government to step it up and make mental healthcare, including therapy and medications, available and accessible to everyone.
We need workplaces to get on board and really listen to and care about their employees. We need mental health days to be seen as just as important as regular old sick days. We need to start talking about it, normalizing it and letting kids know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, anxious and depressed – and then provide actual help.
A few months into my therapy, I said to my therapist, “I can’t believe it took me so long to come here. Therapy should be as normal as going to the doctor or dentist for annual checkups. It’s like a check-up for my brain.”
I want other Canadians to be able to get the help they need – and not just talk about it for a day.
Reposted from: https://nowtoronto.com/