Now that I look at this title I can see that I’ve set myself up for some wrong answers! So, no, the answer is not that anyone skiing to the South Pole (and then climbing the highest mountain in Antarctica) must have a mental health issue. And, no, the answer isn’t that anyone who thinks that there are not hidden charges and changes behind the “deals” the telcos advertise must have a mental health illness. Not that those aren’t reasonable answers! But in this case, the Antarctic explorer, who I’m proud to say is a local Fredericton man, and Bell Canada have both committed to helping make a huge difference in our awareness and support for mental health.
I am one of the lucky ones who has not struggled with a mental health issue … so far. Not only do statistics show that in any given year 1 in 5 Canadians (and Americans, Australians and most other nationalities) deal with a mental health issue, it is also the case that nearly half of the population will struggle with a mental health illness at some time during their lives. Nearly half the population, and still mental health illness continues to have a stigma attached to it, despite its widespread nature, reaching across every spectrum of society. We continue to feel we need to keep our mental health issues hidden. And yet, being able to talk about it, to feel empowered to reach out for support and understanding, is key to treatment.
Bell Canada undertook mental health as its main community outreach initiative a decade ago now. This year’s Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is on January 29, marking the 10th anniversary of this remarkable national program to raise both awareness and money for mental health. Bell’s Let’s Talk program has engaged many leading personalities to share their stories, including respected young athletes. Bell’s approach through social media and TV has encouraged many, many others to step forward with their own struggles and join in the conversation, which has helped de-stigmatize the topic and increase awareness around mental health.
The 4 pillars of Bell’s initiative to move mental health forward in Canada are:
- fighting the stigma
- improving access to care
- supporting world-class research, and
- leading by example in workplace mental health.
An impressive outcome of these annual Let’s Talk campaigns is that Bell’s total donation to mental health programs since its inception in January 2011 currently stands at $100,695,763.75 (on its website as of today).
Now for a hugely impressive mental health initiative closer to home by one individual. Our local Antarctic explorer is an outstanding example of just how committed people can be in support of this cause. Brian Jones, Fredericton businessman and frequent participant in extreme activities to raise money for local charities (although not this extreme), is just now on his way home from having skied to the South Pole as a fund-raiser for improved mental health services in our region. His trek is called “An Antarctic trek for Mental Wellness – Changing the stigma one step at a time”. In partnership with our regional hospital foundation he is hoping to raise $100,000 for the cause. There have to be less challenging ways to raise awareness for this important cause; I am staggered beyond belief at his effort.
All of us have friends, family members, and co-workers who deal or have dealt with depression or other mental health issues. You may not even be aware of it because of the silence around it, but with 1 in 5 people affected in any year, this is the reality. It may be students in your class, it may be someone you interact with regularly, you just don’t always know. A few bloggers I follow have occasionally written about their own struggles with depression. I’d like to share one such blog post with you, because although it is aimed at those who are struggling with depression, I think her insights are important for those of us who would like to understand better. To be there to listen. To reach out. To support.
From the blog Florida Girl Writes, published on Dec. 19:
Recovery in Sight, by Florida Girl
Having depression is more than just being sad. Being depressed isn’t as simple to fix as just being happy. When you tell people what you’re going through and they say it “surprises” them, a part of you is irritated because others are constantly telling you who you are and how to feel. You feel as though something must be wrong with you, or that it’s all in your head.
Depression makes you ashamed to admit you actually have it. Depression is wearing tinted glasses to view the world in one shade. You don’t want to leave your bed. You don’t want to answer your phone. You can’t do the things you love. You can’t find the source of your pain. Each day you live with it, the more normal it becomes until you forget what true happiness feels like.
You smile and laugh, but inside you hate yourself. You tell yourself you’re not suicidal, but sometimes the line gets blurry. You want to allow others to help you, yet how can they when you don’t even know how to process what’s going on in your head? You think you’re a burden and the world would be better without you.
Asking for help is the first step.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to have others help you. You have to help yourself. All the therapy and drugs in the world won’t “cure” you unless you want to. The hardest part is doing the things you don’t really want to do. Exercise releases endorphins, but the bed is so warm. Venturing back to your passions is what you need, but it’s easier to scroll on hours of social media. Healthy relationships with good people help heal wounds, but avoiding everyone feels so much better. You don’t want to be this way anymore, but you don’t know how to change.
Step outside your element, literally.
Force yourself to join that gym. Make yourself get outside and walk down the street. Ask that coworker you’ve known for years to hang out outside of work. Keep a journal. Adopt a dog. Tell yourself you’re worth it. Confront your past. Face your pain. Allow yourself to grieve. Society has taught us that it’s negative to express emotions, yet what makes us human is not only intelligence, it’s our capacity to feel. Denying that part of yourself hurts not only you but the relationships you have with people around you.
The cure isn’t a linear path
Sometimes, you relapse. Everything seems to be going well then it all comes crashing down again. Sometimes, it feels like lying to yourself. Like, no matter what you do, things just keep getting worse. The only thing you can desperately hold onto is love. Love from a partner, from a pet, from yourself. It’s the only thing that keeps you going.
Overcoming depression takes time, and often you fall back into the same ways of think you’re used to. You ruminate, hate, and hurt. That’s okay. Life isn’t a straight shot to the top. The obstacles put in front of you are meant to be part of who you are. Some days, you’ll truly feel like you’re getting somewhere. Others, you wish you could give up. It’s hard to remember, but most importantly, you’re not alone.
It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that no-one is alone.