On January 31st 2018, Bell hosted its annual Let’s Talk day to raise awareness and funds to donate for mental health research and treatment across Canada. For those who haven’t followed up on the results, we as a nation have raised $6,919,199.75 this year for mental health initiatives. For the readers who are unfamiliar with this, Bell Canada had pledged to donate 5 cents for every text message and phone call made through a Bell service made before midnight on January 31st. They also donated 5 cents for every tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, for every view of their Let’s Talk video, for every use of their Snapchat filter, and every use of their Facebook frame. This is an initiative that Bell takes part in every year since 2010, and since then, the company has raised over $80 million to donate towards mental health across Canada.
It’s incredibly sad that the Tamil community doesn’t generally understand or believe that mental health is a real issue that affects millions of people in the world. If someone breaks their arm, it’s easy to see that they are unwell, but this cannot be said for people who suffer from a mental illness. A comparison I like to use is with an egg. If you see that the eggshell is cracked, you can say confidently that it is broken. However, what if the yolk on the inside is cracked? We can’t see what it looks like on the inside, so we shouldn’t assume that it’s completely whole.
The language that you use is very important in taking steps towards ending the stigma and negative perspectives around mental health. If you know someone who has schizophrenia for example, it’s inappropriate to call them “crazy” or a “schizo”. They are someone who may be suffering from a chemical imbalance in their brain. No one chooses to be ill, whether it is mentally or physically. Your condition is something that you are usually born with, completely involuntarily. For example, research on the autism spectrum disorder suggests that the disorder can be developed from genetic and/or environmental factors. The South Asian community sometimes uses a word that loosely translates to “not normal” to describe someone who lives with autism. I’ve heard this word being used in various South Asian movies and between family members to describe someone who is mentally ill. But in the defense of the community, no one knew what the illness was, and thus there was no proper translation for it.
One thing that my parents have always encouraged me in is to gain an education in this country to learn as much as I can about anything and everything. They did not have the same access to education back home that we do here, so having educated children is a big deal for the older Tamil generation. It’s important to educate yourself outside of school, the world is always changing and it is our responsibility to keep up with it. Mental health is starting to become more and more acceptable to talk about. Education is your biggest tool and there are endless resources around you. Being able to learn and understand how to interact with someone who has a mental illness makes a huge difference, especially if friends and family make the necessary effort.
Kindness is another factor that can make a world of a difference. Sometimes we unintentionally say things that we don’t realize will hurt others. If someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, telling them that they’ll “get over it” is doing more harm than you realize. Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a serious illness that has several risk factors including genetics, biochemistry (chemical differences in the brain), as well as environmental and personality factors. Telling someone that they are simply sad all the time and “need to cheer up” is not how depression is treated. It doesn’t really make sense that a chemical imbalance in the brain is treated by positive thinking, right? Depression is fortunately very treatable by medicine and therapy designed to alter distorted thinking. If a friend or family member opens up to you about what they are going through mentally, ask them how you can help instead of minimizing their struggle.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about 20% of Canadians personally experience some form of mental illness regardless of their culture, education level, or income. The association has statistics that show that about 50% of the population will have experienced or continue to experience a mental illness by the age of 40. What’s truly tragic is that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in young men and women. All of this means that you are indirectly affected by mental illness because you are bound to know someone who has or is currently struggling with a mental illness. I personally have been both directly and indirectly affected by it, from close friends experiencing major depression to family members experiencing Alzheimer’s and anxiety disorders. I even have friends and family members who know someone that felt they had no other option aside from taking their own life.
What is important is to be aware of the issues that plague our society today. We have come a long way from the past where mental illness did not have a name other than being “not normal”. Today we have names that we can put to the symptoms, whether it’s Alzheimer’s, major depressive disorder, or autism. What’s especially frightening is that about one fifth of Canadian youths are affected by a mental disorder, and are at risk of developing depression. Canada is the third highest country in death by suicide in the youth population. We need to reach out to our youth specifically to ensure that they understand that suicide is never an option. If young children and teenagers are too afraid or ashamed to speak with their parents about what they are going through, they need to be assured that there are other channels for them to access the necessary treatments and advice.
If these statistics still don’t convince the Tamil community that mental illness is a real and valid concern, then maybe a real experience will. A friend of mine confided their personal struggles to me recently, detailing how they felt that they wanted to end their life because they felt trapped, stressed, lonely, and worthless. This is someone in the Tamil community who I have known for a number of years, and thankfully this friend is still alive with me today. I am only one person who made a difference to this friend and their family who still have no idea that their child was experiencing these thoughts. I know that we as a community are able to stand up to show support for those living with mental illness. The Bell Let’s Talk initiative is one way to get started, another way is to donate to other initiatives that support the research and treatment of mental health. However, the best thing you can do is to extend your support and start talking about different mental illnesses to learn their complications and how they are treated.
Compassion is a human emotion that we have for a reason, so show some compassion for your brothers, sisters, and neighbors to help to break the stigma around mental illness. Sometimes we never know that a loved one is experiencing a mental illness until it’s too late to do anything. It’s important for us to make a change now while our loved ones are still alive and able to receive the treatment that can help them.