Bell Let’s Talk, held annually on January 25, is an event that is very close to my heart. The name says it all; it is an invitation for the world to discuss mental illness and health with the goal of erasing the stigma that remains. I suffer from anxiety. An anxiety disorder is a medical condition characterized by persistent, excessive worry. The anxiety can be so distressing that it interferes with a person's ability to think, feel and act, as well as function properly and take pleasure in day-to-day life. I have acute anxiety, which means that I do not feel chronically anxious, or worry about raising my hand in class, for example. For those with acute anxiety, when it hits, it hits hard.
Most days I am absolutely fine, though some days I overthink an unanswered text to the point of exhaustion. Crying is my outlet as I am a sensitive and emotional person. What is frustrating is that the worry is irrational, and I am completely aware that it is irrational and thus unnecessary. It is hard sometimes, I’ll admit it. But I have learned tools and gained perspective over the years. I also know that some are fighting a daily battle worse than mine, and my heart goes out to those brave souls.
In my experience, society has definitely improved in how they react to mental illness. If I open up to someone about my condition, their response is often that they are familiar with some of the symptoms because someone close to them suffers from issues such as depression or anxiety. However, if I fall apart in front of someone and struggle to explain why, I still feel the need to apologize for the way I’m acting, and I can’t help but think that I am burdening even those who are closest to me.
Though the stigma has lessened, it is still present. People tend to be intimidated by things they are unfamiliar with, particularly things as confusing and unpredictable as mental illness. Bell Let’s Talk is wonderful in that it helps to familiarize people with symptoms, coping mechanisms, and ways to help loved ones. When you are feeling down, there is honestly nothing you want to hear more than a simple “I understand and I support you.” Word is spreading about different forms of mental illness and people are becoming more comfortable around the subject, which absolutely warms my heart.
There are many existing movements that benefit young adults who might have otherwise suffered in silence. In twelfth grade, I had the opportunity to take a mental health class called Compass, which was created by several of my school’s teachers and guidance counsellors, and focused on coping strategies for academic and personal success. The class had a very positive and supportive atmosphere and we shared experiences, set goals, and reflected on our personal achievements. Compass really helped me to outline and monitor my strengths and weaknesses, and I felt mentally stronger after having taken the course. I believe school boards should incorporate this program as a high school elective as it has huge benefits for the mental health of the student body.
One of the great aspects of Bell Let’s Talk is that celebrities participate in the fight towards eliminating the stigma. Seeing celebrities and people of importance speaking out about mental health truly inspires me. Clara Hughes, a Bell Let’s Talk representative, is a true hero in my eyes, and not just because she won multiple medals in both the summer and winter Olympics. Clara suffered from severe depression, and it very nearly derailed her entire life. She now travels around the country, speaking out against the stigma of mental illness and encouraging youth to do the same. A few years ago, she organized Clara’s Big Ride, during which she biked across Canada to promote mental health awareness and inspire youth and adults alike.
In participating in Bell Let’s Talk, in learning from Clara, and in fighting my own fight against anxiety, I have discovered a silver lining about my mental illness: I feel everything very deeply. While feeling negative emotions like fear, anxiety, and guilt at overwhelming degrees can be a burden, I also feel enthusiasm, optimism, passion, joy, and love just as deeply. This is a gift for which I am incredibly grateful. Despite my anxiety, I love my life and the people who are a part of it. I have discovered the profound capabilities of my spirit and just how far one can push the mind and body to do great things. While my mental condition has been accepted and supported by my peers, and I am able to be open about my anxiety, many still suffer in silence. In the future, society must continue to accept that mental illness is real and challenging. Given the right strategies and support, mental health issues can be manageable.