This week is CMHA’s 65th annual Mental Health Week! For those who haven’t heard of it, “CMHA introduced Mental Health Week (MHW) in 1951 to raise awareness of mental illness in Canada. Today, MHW offers practical ways to maintain and improve mental health and support recovery from mental illness and addictions.” Can you believe it all started way back in 1951? That means that, as a community, we have been raising awareness and battling stigma since the average cost of a new house in the United States was $9,000… Whoa.
Every year since then, the CMHA has been running Mental Health Week to give a voice to those who feel like they don’t or can’t have one, and this year the week is aptly themed “#GETLOUD”. This theme, centered on stifling the silence about mental health issues, got me thinking about what it really means to get loud for mental health.
Growing up without an indoor voice earned me the loving nickname of “The Foghorn” by about age 4… thanks Mom and Dad. So, as The Foghorn, I’m no stranger to what it means to get loud. When it comes to mental health, though, getting loud might be a bit more nuanced than getting kicked back out the door every time you walk into a library or distracting others in class.
So, with that, this Foghorn has a few thoughts about the ways in which we can #GETLOUD for Mental Health Week and raise awareness about mental illness in Canada.
1) Use your outdoor voice
First things first, I get that having an indoor voice is important when you’re visiting the Parliament Buildings with your class or listening to a guest speaker at an assembly… trust me, I’ve gotten the lecture. But sometimes, having an indoor voice is completely useless, and lucky for me, this is one of those times. Speak up and speak out about mental health. The more confident you sound, the more people will listen. Now, you don’t need to go shouting it from the rooftops, but do focus on delivering a clear, strong message to whomever you interact with. Even if it’s a conversation in which you are doing most of the listening, listen with your outdoor ears. Focus, listen hard, take it all in and provide clear and concise feedback about what you are hearing.
2) Don’t be afraid to get shushed
When it comes to getting loud for mental health, I think one of our biggest fears is getting shushed, literally and figuratively. We are scared that what we say may be poorly received, we’ll be judged, and we’ll end up worse off than when we started – silenced by those around us. Often, in this context, the people who are doing the shushing are actually the people who need to hear something the most. So I encourage you to stand up to the shush. Tackle that fear, target those shushers and rise above it. They might be ignoring or silencing you out of their own fears and misconceptions, which is exactly what we are trying to get at when we go up against stigma.
3) Make one change
Most importantly, we all know that things don’t change overnight. If you are a more reserved person who is welcome at libraries, you probably aren’t going to wake up tomorrow morning as the second coming of The Foghorn. If you are in an environment where there is no open dialogue about mental illness, you aren’t going to be able to run a Lunch and Learn on Thursday about workplace mental health. What you do doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be loud enough to be heard.
All barriers aside, this is the week to shake something up. This is the week to try and make a change, no matter what it may be. It can be as little as expressing your discontent when someone uses the word “crazy” to describe something out of context, or when you hear someone call another “bipolar” as a joke. There are little things that happen every day where we have a choice to stay quiet, or a choice to get loud. This week I encourage you to choose the latter, channel your inner Foghorn and #GETLOUD for those who can’t.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.