Chatter, Gab, Natter or Chew the Fat this Bell Let's Talk Day 2020
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are in complete distress, falling through the void of space, yet when you try to open your mouth to scream for help, you just cannot make the words come out? This dream is unfortunately the daily reality for some people who suffer with mental illness or a mental health disorder. Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures and approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
In Canada, mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some point in time, either through a friend or family member. In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. In 2010, Bell Let’s Talk initiative began a new conversation about Canada’s mental health.
Bell Let’s Talk identified the urgent need for action to open up the discussion of mental health and to break down the stigma behind mental illness. Through promoting awareness and understanding, the annual Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign facilitates important conversations surrounding all aspects of mental health.
The Four Pillars
Dedicated to moving mental health forward in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk promotes awareness and action with a strategy built on 4 key pillars: Fighting the stigma, improving access to care, supporting world-class research and leading by example in workplace mental health.
Workplace Mental Health Matters
Despite the existence of a national standard, aimed at preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors, many people still have their mental health compromised due to their place of work. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that 500,000 Canadians, in any given week, are unable to work due to mental health problems. Inaction towards promoting positive mental health in the workplace has direct implications on companies and organisations, in the form of absenteeism, loss of productivity and high turnover of staff to name a few. But ultimately, the largest cost is on the individual, both physically and financially.
In 1998, the Canadian Mental Health Association reported that $6.3 billion was spent on uninsured mental health services and time off work for depression and distress that was not treated by the health care system. Despite recent improvements in mental health financial coverage and access to mental health services in Canada, there are many gaps in mental health research and field-specific stigmas which persist.
Stigma of Mental Health in Academia
The world of academia is a fast-paced, time-crunched environment, which often fetishizes overtime and lack of sleep. Wellbeing of academics (both staff and students) are being discussed more openly in recent years, yet many academics still suffer with poor mental health.
From early academic years, the term ‘resilience’ is drummed into young scholars, to the point where persistence and productivity is valued more than one’s own state of wellbeing. I know from my own personal experience that the months of sleep, food and social time I sacrificed, just to get data faster and to keep up with the growing pile of manuscripts impacted terribly on my mental health. It is easy to see why many academics struggle with isolation, loneliness and depression, yet unless productivity is directly affected (in terms of your supervisor noticing), this research hangover goes largely unnoticed.
Usually the first port of call for addressing poor mental health in academia is university counselling and/or mental health services, which are often simultaneously understaffed and oversubscribed. A recent article on Nature Materials explored the current state of research culture and mental health, providing positive examples of university mental health services which function well and put forward solutions for PIs and universities to tackle mental health in academia.
Taking Positive Action
A highly applicable and easy to implement strategy, also supported by Bell Let’s Talk initiative, is to provide toolkits for individuals and groups to help promote awareness of mental health. Within academia, these toolkits are particularly beneficial for:
1) Starting the conversation of mental health and wellbeing
2) Helping to remove the stigma around mental health in academia through use of informative posters
3) Suggesting resources for staff and faculty mental health training
4) Highlighting simple and effective stress and anxiety management exercises.
Here are 5 ways you can help remove mental health stigma:
1) Be careful of the language you use (e.g. 'schizo' and 'crazy')
2) Educate yourself - knowledge is power
3) Be kind - kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give
4) Listen - sometimes all someone needs is an open ear
5) Talk about it - break the silence
So, this Bell Let's Talk Day 2020, I invite you to start a conversation with someone, anyone, about mental health. By talking about mental health, we initiate a simple action towards positive change.
Help and additional resources can be found here.
Written by Dr. Chloe Robinson