Yesterday was the 8th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, and like every year before, a new record was set: 138,383,995 calls, texts, tweets, video views, and use of the Facebook frame and Snapchat filter. That amounts to an additional $6,919,199.75 that will be donated to mental health initiatives in Canada. That’s something all who participated can be proud of.
The past few years, I’ve booked Bell Let’s Talk day off from work. I still work that day – just not at my regular job. In fact, I work a longer day at home on my couch than I do when I’m actually at work. My thumbs and my fingers are going all day long, adding up as many 5 cents as I can. I’d love to know how many tweets I sent and re-tweeted from 6.30 am to 11pm last night, but I think they would take too long to count!
This day always energizes me. It reminds me why I spend so much time on this cause. It inspires me to continue speaking out, to continue to openly share and discuss my own struggles with mental illness. It’s a day full of strength, where shame is instead spelled pride, and when feeling alone turns into feeling accompanied. Mental illness touches the life of every single Canadian, which is likely why the reach of days like Bell Let’s Talk is so huge, and why it can make so many who previously felt so alone feel like quite the opposite; they’re actually part of a pretty big club, and all the members have just been hiding out.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, even if you are not the 1 in 5 who will personally experience a mental health problem or illness in your lifetime, you will still be indirectly affected at some time through a family member, friend or colleague. That’s all of us, 36.29 million of us, which, unfortunately also represents an economic burden in Canada estimated at $51 billion per year. A burden that not even Bell’s donation of $86.5 million to mental health initiatives could cover.
So while BLTD fuels me and exhilarates me, and does so much good – believe me – I know it does, it also frustrates and angers me.
So much progress has been made, even in these past 8 years alone, when it comes to awareness and stigma of mental illness. Though we’re still not where we need to be, we’ve come a long way. With every person that opens up, shares their struggle, or asks for help, a little rock of shame is chipped off the massive mountain that is stigma. And that matters.
But just as important as awareness and stigma reduction, just as important as talking, is what comes after: access.
Access to care is still very much an issue. With the success of BLTD and other initiatives, more and more Canadians are finally feeling comfortable to take that step and reach out for help, only to find there isn’t any there. We are sending soldiers into battle without any weaponry with which to protect themselves. People are finally rising out of their foxholes to take on the enemy that has invaded their mind, only to be left unarmed, exposed, and shot down.
Too many are being lost, alone on a terrifying battlefield where they expected to find allies to carry them to safety.
We need more allies.
We cannot continue to treat more than half of these injured souls only when they arrive bleeding, beaten and near death. We must find a way to reach them before their injuries become critical, increasing their chances of survival. We can no longer afford to leave so many out in the field, waiting for rescue for months on end, alone and cold in a dark hole.
So there’s another army out there, an army of people like me, people who have gone back into the warzone to save others. Those of us who have been through the war are fighting so that others are no longer forced to wait for treatment. Child soldiers are taking their own lives, waiting in agony and despair for help. Mothers and fathers are leaving families behind; sons and daughters suffocating while their parents stand by, hands tied, unable to pull them up for air.
So, I ask you, how much longer can we continue to talk the talk without walking the walk?
We pride ourselves on our universal healthcare here in Canada – hell, even Bernie Sanders praises us – but the truth is, we aren’t very universal at all.
It is largely preached nowadays that mental health is just as important as physical health. But we don’t treat it that way when it comes to our healthcare. For a broken bone, I can receive immediate treatment, free of charge. Need triple bypass surgery? I doubt they’ll force you to wait a year, at risk of a serious heart attack. And they sure as hell wouldn’t make you pay for it. Cancer spreading? Sorry, we haven’t got any more available oncologists to look at that, come back in 8 months. Not likely.
And rightfully so. The stage 2 cancer patient may not have 8 months. Those with heart disease and clogged arteries may not, either. And we certainly don’t expect anyone to walk around with a broken arm for days, weeks, or months on end.
Why do we accept this for any type of care relating to our brains? The 12-year-old who gets bullied relentlessly, who exerts all her energy trying to hide symptoms of her obsessive-compulsive disorder may not have months, either. Neither may the 45-year-old man suffering from depression, the 25-year-old university graduate still fighting bulimia, or those drowning in alcoholism and other forms of addiction.
Mental illnesses can be just as fatal as physical ones. You just can’t see them.
We can’t always see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
So while Bell Let’s Talk is a day I treasure, and one I will continue to passionately participate in, because nothing could ever replace the feeling of acceptance, friendship and community that I find there, I will add a second chorus, and I will keep going long after the day is done.
It’s time for more than talk. We can talk until our faces are Bell’s signature blue, but talking won’t put money in the hand of those who need $150 to pay for an hour with their therapist, or $300 for 3 months of medication.
I have a fantastic benefits plan through my workplace, but I would estimate I’ve still spent upwards of $1,000 in the past year due to my mental health needs. Benefits rarely cover psychotherapy – even though it has been proven to be one of the most effective for anxiety & depression – and it’s $120 a session. Or, I can be invoiced under the name of a psychologist who “oversees” my psychotherapist (most of them do this in order to enable you to submit to your benefits) and pay $180. So, I go that route, but because it’s $60 more per session, my coverage maxes out at 8 sessions instead of 12. And I’m one of the lucky ones.
As BLTD finishes for another year, I hope the conversation continues, and the subject matter evolves. It’s time for our politicians to do more than tweet their 5 cents worth. It’s time for them to walk the walk, and turn their #BellLetsTalk into action.
It’s time they start putting their money where their tweet is.
Then, and only then, will the most Canadian lives be saved, and that is worth more than any number, no matter how big.
Inspired to do more?
Visit any of the following websites, or write your local MP today.