Theres so much more to mental health than what #BellLetsTalk day makes of it

Today is #BellLetsTalk day. Its supposed to reduce stigma around mental health by getting Canadians to talk about. It also.


Today is #BellLetsTalk day. Its 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, Im supposed to be on my way to feeling better. By tweeting Lets talk, today and every day! Im supporting others dealing with depression, anxiety, and other issues in a way thats helpful and meaningful.

But mental illness doesnt work like that. And it certainly doesnt 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 arent 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 doesnt 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, Id 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 doctors note. Many Canadians arent afforded the same luxury.

Months after starting therapy, I found that no matter what I was doing to help myself, I still couldnt 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 couldnt focus on work or anything. No matter how much I exercised, I couldnt feel confident or the jolt of endorphins that used to come to me so easily.

So I went to my doctor. Im pretty lucky that despite moving to a new city, I was able to secure a family doctor by recommendation. Most Canadians dont 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 couldnt 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. Im lucky that as a full-time employee, my workplace provides health insurance coverage. I cant 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. Im lucky to have found something that worked so quickly.

I still go to therapy and I dont expect to be on antidepressants forever. But If I do, thats ok, too. Mental health, however, is so much more than just talking about it. Its 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. Ive found it helpful to talk to my friends about it, but Ive 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 its 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 cant believe it took me so long to come here. Therapy should be as normal as going to the doctor or dentist for annual checkups. Its 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.

michelled@nowtoronto.com | @michdas

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