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EDITORIAL: More than words

Talking openly about mental health is a good way to combat the stigma that can still surround it, but having supports and treatment options in place is vital as well. —
Talking openly about mental health is a good way to combat the stigma that can still surround it, but having supports and treatment options in place is vital as well. — 123RF Stock Photo

Well, January 30th is over, and all those nickels are being counted up.

What nickels?

Well, the five cents that Bell donates to Canadian mental health initiatives for things like text messages including the #BellLetsTalk hashtag (and made by Bell Mobility customers).

Here’s how Bell describes it: “For every text message*, mobile and long distance call*, Bell Let’s Talk Day video view on social media, tweet using #BellLetsTalk, use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter, Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. Let’s work together to create a stigma-free Canada!”

(The asterixes point out that the calls and texts have to be made by Bell Canada subscribers.)

Talking is a necessary first step. Finding money for mental health initiatives and having people talk about mental illness in a way that reduces public stigma? Also valuable, game-changing initiatives, even if it also serves to market a phone giant.

The problem is ensuring that the help we’re all saying is there, is, in fact, really there.

But there’s another crucial piece: Let’s Talk is just one short day of the year. It tells people how and where to get help, and also tells everyone else ways to help someone dealing with mental health issues.

But that help is needed 365 days of the year; it isn’t restricted to late January.

The problem is ensuring that the help we’re all saying is there, is, in fact, really there.

That employers know enough to be supportive, that public health systems are robust enough to actually deliver the kind of care that people are told is going to be there, that friends and family will be accepting and supportive.

Imagine for a second that you are crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder. You unburden yourself to your employer, only to find that any health insurance benefits for counselling run out long before your issues fade, and that, after handing you the employee assistance program telephone number, your employer effectively washes their hands of the issue. You’re told about a myriad of places to seek help, but find only waiting lists, delays and hoops to jump through.

Are you, overall, better or worse off? If you come forward and find yourself standing alone, is that an improvement?

A stigma-free Canada is a great goal, and finding ways to make as many Canadians as possible aware about how common and sometimes debilitating mental health issues can be is also a crucial step forward.

You can’t expect someone to work their way out of the darkness, and then deny them the tools to do exactly that.

We have to be extremely careful that we do not promise more than we can deliver.

This may sound extremely negative, coming on the tails of a campaign that raises awareness — and millions of dollars — every year.

But we can’t expect people to step forward, and then force them to step back again.

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