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The Issue With #BellLetsTalk Day for Mental Health, 10 Years Later

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January 28, 2021, was Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, and the purpose is a noble one. It’s the one day the telecommunications company raises funds for mental health awareness and then donates to a specific list of mental health organizations.

The company encourages people to take to social media outlets and to share their resources or send messages through their servers to get the word out, using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. Last year, the telecommunications giant was able to raise $7,719,371.25. This year, to help raise funds, one of the fun and light videos Bell has put out features jazz celebrity, Michael Bublé.

In years previous, I would have shared the video. The issue now, 10 years after the initiative started, really not much has changed in getting people the support they need. So, I won’t be sending out messages or sharing the hashtag, not when there are so many Canadians suffering in silence and unable to access the help they need. Not when the money that is raised from initiatives like this never really gets to the people who need it most. I’ll support #BellLetsTalk for mental health when the “talk” becomes the walk.

When people are able to see a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and other mental health clinicians under their government health plans.

When mental health nurses are not tasked with providing clinical therapy because there aren’t enough psychiatrists.

When we have mental health clinics that provide clinical diagnosis and treatment plans, just as we do health clinics.

When governments recognize there needs to be capacity building of more psychiatrists. Paying them equivalent to their specialist colleagues, and work on mental health program incentives for graduating MD students. Right now, asking your family doctor to see a psychiatrist who really should be the only one prescribing and monitoring psychiatric drugs is like asking them to find the holy grail. There aren’t enough psychiatrists and the waitlists could be up to two years.

When children and teens who are waiting for treatment don’t need to wait six months to a year before they can get help for their depression, anxiety or suicidal states. There are currently over 28,000 kids on waitlists for this in Ontario alone. Don’t believe me, look here.

When hospital emergency rooms don’t turn away someone who has attempted to take their life, and send them home with a pamphlet to get in touch with a community resource that is not equipped to deal with providing treatment. They go home defeated and may never to reach out for help again. And somehow, we sleep at night.

When police are supported with training on how to respond to a mental health crisis and mobile professionals are called in to deescalate and provide support. How many lives have been lost because someone was having a mental health episode and was misunderstood as violent and dangerous?

When addiction and treatment centers are really that — where we can house our most vulnerable and provide the basic necessities of life and the dignity they deserve instead of turning them to the streets.

When individuals aren’t afraid to ask for help from their employers for fear of being stigmatized, losing their credibility or being fired. I can’t tell you how many friends I know would never put down on a leave paper, “mental illness.” They would more likely be more comfortable disclosing a physical illness. And yet, mental illness is a medical condition that needs treatment just like anything else.

When schools actually have in-house mental health professionals that provide clinical services and not just consults. Kids go to school every day; where do you think they are more likely to ask for help? They are more likely to tell a teacher or a guidance counselor than their own parents. Support these professionals and give them the tools they need to support the kids they see every day.

I could go on and on. But if 1 in 5 people in Canada is dealing with a mental health crisis, condition or disorder, then we are failing to provide what preventative and treatment plans we can.

I’ve long supported initiatives that look to get the conversation going. But when millions of dollars are being raised by corporations and nothing is being trickled down to the front line, then I cannot in good conscience support it. We need more.

And don’t let anyone tell you that the money doesn’t exist. This pandemic has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the money is there.

When you invest in mental health, you invest in people. You provide them with the supports and tools they need to survive and thrive.

We are all worthy of being helped.

To my warriors who wake up every day, who fight in silence — I see you. You are the bravest people, and your story matters. Know that someone loves you and will get through this.

One of the kindest psychiatrists I ever met said this to me. He said, “The people who I see in my office every day are some of the most kindest and good people I know. It’s the people out there that scare me.”

He was 80, and he was still working because he wanted to help as many people see their light as he could. I’ll never forget how he validated me and helped me through.

I hope that today you have someone who is helping you through, too.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: January 30, 2021
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