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Let’s Talk: Our Collective Voice Can Conquer Stigma

New definition for recovery from addiction has been releasedWe need to change the culture of this topic and make it OK to speak about mental health and suicide.

–          Luke Richardson

“Why, after so many close calls, was my life spared?” I often ask myself this question. But I don’t expect I’ll ever stumble upon an answer. I’ve learned that life is full of questions, and answers are few and far between.

I like to believe I survived the throes of mental illness and addiction for a reason – to share my story. And maybe, by sharing my story, I can inspire others to speak out about their own mental health struggles. So let’s start a discussion that will lead to change. Let’s talk.

By the age of 27 I had lost all hope. My life hung in the balance and the possibility of suicide or overdose wasn’t farfetched. Without a doubt, I was a Schizoaffective, Obsessive-Compulsive, drug and alcohol addled mess.  A doomed ship. A Titanic. Oh, what a collision course life has been!

Let’s examine my past for a moment. I’ve polluted my body with loads of illicit and licit substances, tossed away brain cells like confetti, had run-ins with the law, spent months locked in psychiatric wards, and have even attempted suicide. I’ve lived an eventful life.

In keeping with the nautical metaphor of a doomed ship, I guess you could say I’ve dodged my fair share of icebergs. That sounds accurate. But by 27, the fun and games had ended and I was gazing into an abyss. To quote Nietzsche, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” So when I finally reached the end of my rope, I was hospitalized, again.

I wasn’t the only one in that hospital who had lost hope. Many of us faced life or death decisions. Sink or swim. Some gave up, and others fought with every ounce of strength they could muster. So what saved me? I suppose I finally decided to break my stubborn vow of silence. I decided to talk.

Recovery is a journey that begins with a call for help. It is unfortunate, but many who struggle with mental health challenges do not have the luxury of insight. Consequently, these individuals are unable to request the help they need. I suppose I’ve been blessed with insight. It is my insight that has kept me alive.

Sadly, even those with insight often do not seek help. So how do we create an environment in which individuals feel comfortable asking for support? Let’s examine why some opt to stay hidden, and suffer in silence. The reason is quite evident – stigma.

Stigma is defined as a mark of shame. And there is a great deal of shame associated with mental health challenges. Society, as a whole, tends to look down on those who wrestle with mental illness and addiction. Many who “come out of the mental health closet” find themselves abandoned by friends, family and co-workers.

Stigma is perhaps the biggest hurdle standing between those struggling with mental health conditions, and recovery.  So how can we work to remove this barrier? We can start a conversation.

As a forum for mental health discussion, Bell Let’s Talk has the potential to change the way society perceives mental illness and addiction. Since 2010, Bell Let’s Talk has committed one hundred million dollars to mental health initiatives in Canada.  But beyond that, Bell Let’s Talk represents a step towards erasing the mark of shame many of us bear.

The campaign’s spokesperson, Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, who has publically disclosed her battle with depression, has inspired many to divulge stories of their own mental health struggles.   As iconic figures become increasingly outspoken about mental health issues, those of us with lived experience may feel more empowered to make our voices heard.

Ultimately, that’s what it will take to finally eliminate stigma. It will take our collective voice. Every single one of us who has grappled with a mental health challenge deserves to be heard. By speaking out, you will inspire courage in others and offer hope for recovery. Together, we can conquer stigma. But it will take a movement to do so. So let’s begin this movement. Let’s talk.

This year, Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 27th – join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk and tagging @Healthy_Minds. 

Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I am currently working towards completing a Psycho-social Rehabilitation graduate program; I also volunteer with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division, working as a mental health information navigator and as an exhibitor at health conferences across British Columbia.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/andrew_l_woods
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andrew.woods.7161