Why Talking About Mental Illness Still Isn’t Cool
Mental health matters, but unfortunately, talking about mental illness still isn’t cool.
This year on January 29 in Canada, the Bell Let’s Talk campaign raised over 7 million dollars for mental health iniatives. This campaign aims to raise awareness for mental health by encouraging people to talk openly about their illnesses.
On this day in Canada, Bell donates 5 cents for calls, texts, and social engagements across the country. And on this date, celebrities living with mental illness share their stories in the hopes of helping others feel less alone.
But I have to say it: Talking about mental illness is still not considered cool.
As much as this campaign brings awareness and gets people talking, perhaps we need to stop and think about what it means for those who are most vulnerable to be sharing their stories openly in the public arena.
Because for every person on social media who is sharing openly and raising awareness, there are many more contemplating whether they should be doing the same. And that contemplation is not a bad thing; it’s a sign that we are in a period of transition or that maybe the approach needs tweaking.
Physical health conditions and chronic illness are not really cool to talk about either. At least not the nitty gritty details of what goes on.
You won’t find many mentions of the struggles that are faced by those with physical illness. I know personally, when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I didn’t share on social media about how I watched her deteriorate in the hospital and nearly die.
That’s not to say that I don’t share about her condition. Each year, I share that we are participating in a fundraising event to support a local hospital that is doing research. Once in a while, I will share an awareness post about silent symptoms of which to be aware.
I would never ask or expect my mother to publicly share her story on social media. But, I know that she shares about it in the support groups she attends and with the friends who want to know how she is doing.
In short, everyone is aware that she has a physical illness. People ask how she is doing but don’t fully understand the extent of what the illness means. They respect that she’s fighting a hard battle and offer support. They don’t need to know extensive details of the daily battles to show empathy.
And so, when Bell Let’s Talk day rolls around, I brace myself for the social media posts from those sharing their stories. I brace myself because I know that the world needs to change, but the approach might need tweaking. And it’s reflected in how those posts are received.
There’s not the same aspect of community support that you see when people rally around someone who has disclosed a physcial health condition.
I believe it’s because the world is still very much in the dark when it comes to mental health and illness. Most people are listening to the stories but they are still struggling to put the pieces together. They can’t neatly classify someone.
There might be a desire to offer support or ask how to help, but with so much uncertainty about what’s wrong, we all take a step back and think too long about how to respond.
Instead, I wish the world would start doing two things.
First, in order to start talking about mental health and mental illness openly, we need to also start talking about mental health conditions.
Until we get to the point that it’s just as commonplace to say “My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last week,” as it is to say “My son was diagnosed with diabetes last week,” we aren’t going to make progress.
It isn’t necessary to share the details or the struggles, but it’s critical that we start to share the diagnosis. The more this is done, the more it becomes normalized.
Second, for those who want to share publicly but feel like the world isn’t ready, there’s no need to share the bad days.
Sharing the triumphs and the breakthroughs will be just as meaningful, and will most certainly offer a sense of hope to others in the same position.
We don’t need to know the depths of a person’s struggle to empathize. Those closest will already know, and those who want to know more will likely ask.
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