Today is the day that Bell does their #LetsTalk campaign, encouraging talking about, and reducing the stigma of mental health issues. This is a fantastic goal, and one that we have needed for a very long time, to break the silence surrounding mental health issues, but, I feel that we need to take this to the next level, and do more than just talk.
We are now at a point in time where most people have at least heard the message about mental health. We are generally aware that it affects many, many people, in all walks of life, that it affects not only the person, but their families, work environment, and so on. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Lady Gaga are actively open about their battles with mental health issues. Larger companies are putting more money into providing mental health supports, such as Telus, who has recently provided $5,000 per employee per year towards mental health treatment as part of their benefits package. We are talking the talk. But, can we walk the walk?
I think we need to take a deeper look into why so many of us have issues with anxiety, depression, and addictions. What is it about our lives that have so many in such desperate need? I think a big part of that is, many of us are under enormous pressure to “succeed”, and yet, we have such a narrow view on what “success” is. North Americans work some of the longest hours, with the fewest days off, of most of the industrialized nations, yet, we not only feel guilty for actually taking our legitimate vacation and sick days, but we sometimes even brag about how long it’s been since we last had a day off! We compensate for our lack of time with our children by keeping them over-busy with sports, clubs, and other after-school activities, and organize elaborate, expensive birthday parties and gifts. We feel compelled to buy the latest gadget, phone, vehicle, and fashions – even if we can’t afford it, it’s the mark of “success”! In the meantime, we struggle with fitting all this busy-ness into our lives, with long hours at work (or sometimes 2 or even 3 different jobs!), often trying to do the workload of 2 or 3 people due to cut-backs, then struggling to keep the house clean, and, who has time to cook properly now?, so we get take-out or frozen food and feel guilty that we didn’t find time for that yoga class, or to prep food for the following week… And we wonder why anxiety and depression is affecting so many of us, and that’s not even taking into account the many people who don’t have neuro-typical brains, who have learning differences, or chronic health issues, or who just can’t handle sitting at a desk for 8 (or 9 or 10) hours a day.
It’s time for a change. Now, change is going to be more difficult for those who are barely struggling to get by. That’s why it’s up to ALL of us. We need to start by making those little changes, that we can. We need to start by being KIND and FORGIVING to one another. That includes, especially, online. It’s so easy to make snarky comments on Facebook and Twitter. To point out how “ridiculous” someone is being. To start name-calling and hate-bombing. If you don’t agree with someone, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. State your opinion with grace, and provide back-up information. Be respectful, even if you disagree. But, don’t start bashing someone and calling them names just because they hold a different opinion from you! And, if you see online bullying, stand up for the receiver, even if you don’t agree with their position, NO-ONE deserves to be bullied! And, kindness does not mean that we allow people to walk all over us.
We need to start encouraging NORMAL, POSITIVE TOUCH (with consent!) to casual friends. Ranging from a hand on the shoulder, to a hug in greeting, to whatever it looks like for you, but NOT including aggressive, possessive, non-consensual, invasive touch! When in doubt, ask if it’s ok, and be totally fine if the person says no, even if they received a hug from you in the past. Human beings need human touch in order to survive and thrive. While we need to be aware of creepy, intrusive behaviour, we shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and touch someone, and, sometimes, all it takes is a hug to calm anxiety down or break through a depressive episode (not always, but sometimes). (On a side note: because it is a source of positive, safe human touch, massage therapy can be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.)
We need to SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER! Let me say this, again. We need to SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER! Whether it’s organizing a daycare carpool or babysitting circle, or encouraging your friends to come with you for a hike in the mountains, or bringing over food when a friend has a new baby or has been sick. This used to be the norm, but it’s fallen apart. It takes a village to not only raise a child, but to live, and we have lost our village. It is EXHAUSTING trying to do everything by ourselves, having no-one to catch us when we fall! Even if we just don’t have the mental or physical energy to do something like that, ourselves, simply sending a text to a friend, letting them know that you are thinking about them, and want to make sure they are OK can make a difference.
We also need to open our minds to ALTERNATIVE DEFINITIONS OF “SUCCESS”. Ultimately, success should mean that the person is becoming the best version of themselves, and are happy. That may differ from what is traditionally thought of as “success”. For some, it’s the high-end corporate job, with the big house, fancy cars, etc. For others, it’s the quiet cabin in the middle of no-where, with a garden and a few animals. Yet others have few of the traditional trappings of success, and may struggle financially, but they have a big, happy, noisy family filled with love. Or, it may be an artist who can’t handle a traditional job, and may have mental health issues, but creates beauty on a canvas. Whatever it means to that person, we need to accept it, and see them as a human being. We also need to recognize that there is no timeline to being “successful”. Life is a journey, and there are many paths that we take, and many stops along the way.
Is this going to put a halt to mental health issues? No. Absolutely not. But, what it will do is grant space in this world to people who have those issues, and reduce some of the pressure we place on people in general. But, by being KIND and FORGIVING, NORMALIZING POSITIVE TOUCH, SUPPORTING ONE ANOTHER, and opening our minds to ALTERNATIVE DEFINITIONS OF “SUCCESS”, we learn compassion, and take some of the weight off of each other’s shoulders, including our own, making this a better, and easier, world to live in.
~ by Kim Umphrey, RMT