Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bell's "Let's Talk" mental health campaign is good, but more action needs to be taken

I commend the people working for Bell's "Let's Talk" mental health campaign who are bringing attention to the issue of mental health in a dignified way. It takes a lot of courage to share a story about mental illness, especially when there continues to be so much stigma attached to mental health issues in Canada. Overcoming the stigma by talking openly about mental illness and raising awareness are important steps in dealing with the issue of mental health--we cannot provide resources for mental health issues and treat them properly if we don't acknowledge the importance of mental health in the first place.

However, Bell's "Let's Talk" mental health campaign does not go far enough. It is not enough just to talk about mental health for one day--mental health awareness and activism should be encouraged every day of the year. If Bell really wants to be a leader in promoting better mental health, they should be supporting mental health initiatives all year round, not just one day. Bell is a large company with many resources--they have the power to change the way mental health issues are dealt with in Canada.

Another problem with Bell's "Let's Talk" mental health campaign is the fact that no real changes are happening at the political level to ensure that people who need to access mental health care actually get help. Kelly Bradley, a woman from British Columbia, is still struggling to get better mental health care in her province. Her adopted daughter with bipolar disorder was turned away from the hospital three times, despite being in a crisis. Kelly Bradley has set up a petition to advocate for better mental health care in British Columbia: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/b-c-needs-to-provide-emergency-mental-health-services-for-children

Kelly Bradley isn't alone. Despite Bell's "Let's Talk" mental health campaign that has been running for the past few years, people suffering from mental illness are still falling through the cracks. On March 9, 2013, Toronto resident Christopher "Kit" Skelly killed himself, because he could no longer bear to live with schizophrenia. If appropriate mental health resources were already in place, Skelly's needless death could have been prevented. How many more tragedies similar to that of Christopher "Kit" Skelly need to happen before real change in Canada's mental health care system takes place?

As a society, we need to stand together and demand better from our mental health care system. Sign petitions that advocate for better mental health care. When politicians say there is not enough money to fund mental health care, force them to find the funding. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and should be treated as such. We would not tell someone with cancer or any other physical chronic disease to wait for treatment, yet why do we have a completely different attitude when it comes to mental health? If the mental health care system does not change, more people will continue to fall through the cracks.

Doctors and other professionals working in the mental health field also need to take the lead in this matter--when a patient is concerned about their mental health, take their concerns seriously. Listen to what your patient has to say, and treat the cause of the problem, not the symptoms. Psychiatrists who do nothing but over-medicate their patients without treating the cause of the problem also need to be held responsible for their unethical practices.
Above all, attitudes towards mental health must change. The next time you see someone who is upset in any way, whether he or she is suicidal or even just having a case of "the blues", listen to that person. Don't dismiss their concerns by saying "it's all in your head" or anything else along that line. Someone could look like he or she has it all on the outside, but on the inside, that person is facing real mental health issues. Reach out and help that person--we cannot afford to have more tragedies like that of Christopher "Kit" Skelly.

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