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Published on January 25th, 2017 | from CAMH

#LetsKeepTalking

Maree Rodriguez, member of the CAMH National Youth Advisory Committee | 

On January 25th, Canadians will join the conversation around mental health. By using #BellLetsTalk on social media, as well as texting/calling on Bell carrier phones, Bell will make donations to mental health initiatives. The long-term goal? Ending the stigma around mental illnesses.

Mental health advocates always talk about ending stigma, reaching out for help and supporting someone with a mental illness. Yet, we always feel like we could do more, that there is more to do, that we are not doing enough. We have to remember though; we are all human.

During Bell Lets Talk Day, people come together in an effort to promote the understanding of mental illness. If more people can understand what mental illness is, then we can all support those with it. More importantly, it’s a way to reach people who don’t understand what it’s like to support someone with a mental health issue.

CAMH’s National Youth Advisory Committee is one of many groups of like-minded mental health and addiction advocates. As someone who has been with the committee since the beginning (2014),   I see the common element that connects us is our passion for these issues, and our ideas on how we can advocate for and solve them. We continuously work on new projects and campaigns that promote self-advocacy and anti-stigma.

However, we know that tackling stigma can’t be done alone. One person doesn’t have all the ideas. One committee doesn’t have all the ideas. Working collectively with as many people as possible can only strengthen the knowledge around mental health issues. Dealing with mental illness can be an isolating experience for some. It’s important to know that there are plenty of other people who may be experiencing the same thing.

Looking back on 2016, many of us were affected by political change, school, exams, relationships and daily life. On a personal level, I knew two high school friends who have passed away in the last year. One of them passed away due to suicide. No matter the reason, hearing of someone’s death is always hard to take. As an advocate it’s hard to hear. As a friend, it’s even harder.

When you know a person who dies by suicide, there are so many feelings, emotions and thoughts that go through one’s mind. Questions include: Why did they do it? Why didn’t I see any signs? How long were they feeling this way? Our minds start racing and we get so occupied in these questions. Sometimes, we’ll never find the answer to these questions. I am still trying to find the answers to these questions.

Mental illness is real and complicated. It’s as complicated as each individual person. Everyone has their own needs and ways to cope with hard times. We all need to start somewhere though, and it starts with a conversation.

Through my personal advocacy work I have noticed that some people don’t know what to do when it comes to supporting someone with a mental illness. With the help of other NYAC members, we have come up with some tips:

  • Treat them as a human. It may sound simple, and cliché but one of the best things you can do is listen and do small activities they enjoy.
  • Try not to let the focus be on their emotional state; make conversations even about the trivial things. Such as how their day is going, any upcoming events they’re looking forward to, interests, friends and hobbies. Asking how they’re feeling is perfectly okay too if you’re concerned – but they may need some time to be able to talk about it. Sometimes talking about other things may open up the door to talking about themselves.
  • Call people out when you hear negative comments about people with mental health issues.
  • Take a Mental Health First Aid Course – Look online for one in your area and educate yourself.
  • Practice self-care – because helping someone can be both emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s important to know when to take a step back to breathe.
  • Take part in #BellLetsTalk day and keep the conversation going.

Everyone has something unique to offer when it comes to ideas on ending the stigma around mental illness. We may not have all the answers, but we can always listen, educate and learn. For #BellLetsTalk Day, let’s keep talking. Today, tomorrow and every day after.

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