I am finding myself more and more pleased with this year’s Bell Media Let’s Talk campaign. This is a campaign all about ending the stigma around mental illness. This year they released videos showing how people’s words about someone with a mental health issue can change the way we talk about these problems. Some of these videos reflect real life scenario’s, like in a workplace or at school, while some are testimonials from celebrities. For instance:
Growing up, I came from a very traditional family. Even though, I believe, they recognize and empathize with others, who have mental health problems, I do not think they are very intuitive or receptive to dealing with these issues when they are in their homes.
I have always been a good girl for my parents. I was the daughter they could always rely on, who rarely misbehaved and got top grades. I think over time, I created a pressure on myself, more than they did, to maintain this image for them. I never wanted to disappoint them or ever feel burdened by me or any issues I had. When I was younger, I had some issues with bullies at school, and struggled with a personal heartache when one of my closest friends moved away and stopped communicating with me (which I later learned was due to family problems). Throughout all this, I always kept a positive attitude. This is something I am proud of to this day. Yet, I now know that maintaining this image from such a young age had huge impact on my mental health. My world went upside down when I turned 13.
We moved out of the city and into the suburbs the summer before grade 7. I started at new school. This alone may not have been a problem, as it was not my first time switching schools, but this time, making friends was harder than I anticipated. I continued to strive to be my best, but it just got harder every day, as I struggled to find a way to fit in with these new kids. There were not that many minorities in the school and I certainly felt the difference between the personalities of the kids from the suburbs and the kids from the city. Somehow, I just was not comfortable and it affected my confidence significantly. That is when I started to have anxiety attacks. I did not know that is what they were and nobody helped me understand them that way. I recall screaming at my mom, “What is wrong with me!”, because I knew I was not being “normal” and that I did not feel the same. I once overheard her talking on the phone and sadly telling a friend that she did not know what to do for me. I knew her tone was that of confusion about my difficult attitude, and not necessarily recognizing that I was experiencing a mental problem.
I was very mature for my age and quite clever. I remember going to a doctor at a walk-in-clinic that implied he could prescribe anti-depressants. I walked out of that appointment telling my mom that he did not know what he was talking about. Of course, my mother, who was not very educated and did not speak English very well, took my word for it. I did, however, start seeing the school psychologist after a parent-teacher interview exposed my new behaviours at home.
I remember going to the bi-weekly appointments with my psychologist and putting on a great show of maturity, with little to confide. I always had this fear that if I said something not quite right, I may be putting my parents’ reputation at risk. Growing up in the rougher part of the city, I knew a lot of kids that were taken away from their parents, for what seemed like seemingly innocent things at the time. I was not sure if anything I ever confided could result in this. As smart as I was, I guess I did not know exactly what a psychologist’s job was?
My “Aha!” Moment
I vividly remember the moment I started to recognize the importance of my mental health, and my desire to get better. It was after I heard some students mention that I was “crazy” and that I saw the school psychologist. This is something I had only confided to one person at school. I remember feeling so terrible and going to the main office to ask to see the school psychologist. He was not there. So I went home instead. I will never forget that my first instinct was to go look for my psychologist. Clearly, I knew that he was someone who could help me.
I share me story, like those in the Bell Media testimonials did, because I know firsthand that the stigma behind mental illness is what makes it so hard for people to get better. That was the most challenging year of my life, and I was only 13. That year taught me everything about expressing my emotions, having a good balance in life (with regards to school, home, work, and so on). I learned so much about being open-minded to others, and recognizing that each person has a story or a struggle of their own. I learned that the fact that there was someone available to help me meant that there were others like me. Going forward from that year, I could recognize symptoms of elevated stress or anxiety and understand the ways that I could cope. I am proud to say that I know myself and my limits, and I know that I can still be that awesome student, daughter and wife, without putting unnecessary pressure on myself.
What do you think about the Let’s Talk campaign? Do you find it an effective tool for making people understand mental health issues and reducing the stigma surrounding them?