Yesterday was Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day in Canada. An initiative designed to open the dialogue about mental illness, and to eliminate the stigma. The initiative began in 2010, and has grown into a social media exercise. For any Tweet (or Instagram post) that uses #BellLet’sTalk on January 25, Bell will donate 5 cents to the initiative. This applies to other social media platforms and even an old fashioned phone call or text. It is incredible that Bell has donated over $6 million to this initiative since 2010. This is extremely important, in my opinion. Mental illnesses are widely over looked by society, and honestly the supports don’t always exist.
The topic of mental health has been coming up in my conversations a lot lately. More and more people that I know are coming forward to actually talk about their struggles. On one hand this is great, but on the other hand it’s not a pleasant thing to deal with. Statistically (in Canada), 20% of adults will experience some kind of mental illness in their lives. With about 8% of adults experiencing major depression. Mental illness is treatable, but so many people don’t get the help they need.
Why is this so important to me? I am the youngest of five kids. One of my siblings has a mental illness. She is bipolar. Proving the statistic to be accurate. My ex-boyfriend suffered (and probably still does) from major depression while we were together. It was a constant cause of turmoil in our relationship. I felt that he wasn’t seeking out the help he needed, and he felt that I was too pushy. It’s a balancing act for anyone who is in that situation. Do you let them go through the motions, or do you step in and try to help? It became extremely stressful. My friends and family would reach out to me to say that he needed help – which was not news to me. But how do you bring up that topic? Or how do you bring it up again and again?
I’m not a mental health practitioner, so I am writing from a place of experience not diagnosis. Looking back I feel like I should have done more. Maybe even like I failed him. I know that it wasn’t my illness, or my situation to deal with, but in many ways I felt like it was. He wasn’t able to take care of himself, so I had to do it for him. The more I learn about mental illnesses, the more I feel like I missed. Maybe I was too close to the situation, but I wasn’t able to see the forest for the trees.
He was in a lot of physical pain. Something always bothered him. Whether it was his arms from his job being so physical, his back from sports, or his feet from all the walking that he did. He enjoyed physical exercise, and in some ways I think that was good, but I also feel like it was part of the problem. It kept him distracted from the issue, in my opinion. He always had to be busy. Always had to have something on the go. Other times, he would sleep for half the day and then take off for the day. Leaving me to sort out our “life” – making decisions, paying bills, looking after the house, running errands etc. It kind of became “normal” for me. Obviously, this wasn’t a good balance, but what do you do when this is your situation?
He didn’t sleep well. He would put on weight, and drop it off just as fast, and didn’t eat properly. Which would switch to being extremely concerned about what he was eating. He would get really upset if plans got changed. He couldn’t deal with anything out of the routine. Everything had to have its place or he would get really upset. He couldn’t concentrate or keep focused. He would forget things. Every day was a struggle. Every task was a challenge. There was nothing I could do to make his life or situation easier. And I felt helpless. It’s this reason that I applaud the work being done by organizations like Bell to try to raise awareness. And ultimately to provide funding for programs that will help people with mental illnesses.
Writing this article has been extremely difficult for me. Many of my close friends and family members probably don’t know all of this. If it helps even one person, then it was worth it. His depression took over our lives. Everything we did was structured around how he was feeling. You’re probably wondering why I stayed? I asked myself that many times, and even brought it up to him. The fall out from that conversation was ultimately a destructive path for him. I felt trapped in many ways. Me leaving meant that he would potentially harm himself. How could I live with myself then? I kept telling myself that things would improve. That he would get the help he needed. But it never happened. And while that wasn’t the direct cause of our relationship to fail, it was definitely the precursor.
Often people can have more than one mental illness and not even realize it. I suspect he also had an anxiety disorder, but I’m not a doctor. Just my observation and experiences with it over the years. I don’t like to use clichés, but no one should have to suffer in silence. There is no reason not to seek out help. Even if it means chatting with someone once in a while. It’s important to understand what is happening, in order to be able to treat it effectively. I thought I should write about depression and mental illness today as it keeps coming up in my life and I figured there was a reason for it. I tend to ignore the messages that are right in front of me, but I couldn’t ignore this one.
A couple years ago, while looking for training videos for work, I came across this one. It really put depression into perspective for me. I had understood it all too well from living with someone who was dealing with it on a daily basis. But it wasn’t until I watched this video that I truly understood what it was like to live with it. Maybe I was too close to the situation to understand. Or maybe I didn’t want to deal with it – either way, this video helped.
Winston Churchill referred to his bipolar disorder as his “black dog”, which I find interesting. By giving it a term like “black dog” we are taking some of the power away from it, it seems. Referring to it as a thing, rather than a condition. Maybe this is a good strategy to help alleviate some of the stigma around mental illness.
Warning: this is a sad video, but I think it summarizes depression in a way that makes it easier to understand.