On Feb. 12, Bell will be donating 5¢ from every text and long distance call made by Bell and Bell Aliant users to help end mental health stigma with the third annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. Tweets using #BellLetsTalk and Facebook shares of the campaign image will also result in a 5¢ donation.
I am not a Bell customer but I will be Facebook sharing and Tweeting away on the 12th because I know the damage mental illness can do to a life.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states 20 per cent of all Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Suicides account for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds and 16 per cent among 25 to 44 year olds. That makes Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world.
In Canada, 3.2 million 12 to 19 year olds are at risk of developing depression, according to CMHA.
Mental illness does not discriminate and affects people of all ages, gender, educational and income levels, and cultures. But talking about mental illness is like sharing a dirty little secret for many of us.
I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 12. I all of a sudden lost all interest in school and friends. My grades plummeted and I started missing more and more days of school because of stomach and headaches. I became known as the “sick girl” by my peers because of my many absences and my friends started to slowly move on from me.
When I was 17, I was pulled out of school for a semester after suffering a major panic attack in my English class. It was the last straw for me and I took the time to rebuild myself with the help of a therapist and antidepressant medications.
The biggest low came in my mid-20s when I suffered a major depressive episode. I couldn’t eat and lost a significant amount of weight in a very short time. I couldn’t sleep because I would wake up repeatedly through the night with panic rising in my chest and my thoughts running a mile a minute. I would be crying so hard I would barely be able to take a breath, which only increased the panic. I was constantly sad and had no interest in anything other than staying hidden from the world in my bed. I was punishing myself for being this way and fading away to the point that I could no longer recognize myself.
At this point in my life, I was diagnosed with chronic depression and told I would probably have to be medicated for the rest of my life to correct the chemical imbalance in my brain that was contributing to my illness. I will not always be in a depressive state but I do have to take responsibility for my illness and be aware of the signs and symptoms of the depression in order to react accordingly and ask for help when I need it.
Depression isn’t about being sad and lazy. I was beyond sad: I was in utter despair and darkness. I saw no way out of the constant pain and suffering and I had a suicide plan in place, which thankfully I never attempted. I wasn’t lazy, I wanted to end my isolation and get back to who I was before my depression consumed me but I had no energy because I didn’t eat or sleep. When I did force myself to leave my prison of isolation, I was withdrawn and had trouble focusing on what was going on around me. I was a shell of my former self.
However, I was very lucky because I had an amazing support system and access to the medical help I needed to get better. I fought. I fought brutally hard to find my way back from that awfulness. It took every ounce of strength within me to be honest with myself and ask for help. And it wasn’t an overnight change; it took months of hard work and commitment from my therapist, doctor, friends, family and me. But you know what? I made it.
Today, I can recognize the signs of depression and I know how to adjust my behaviours and thought patterns in order to cope. I will always have to be self-aware enough to see the problem before it becomes too much for me to handle. I will have times when I slip and I will need access to medical and mental health professionals but I am lucky enough to have access to them.
I am not alone. According to the CMHA, mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, a friend or a colleague.
I am not “crazy” and I should not be made to think I am. I am “normal” it’s just I have an illness that does not result in a physical scar I can show you to make you understand. My illness is silent and invisible but it is real and it needs to be recognized. So on Feb. 12th, let’s talk.