Speak Your Shame

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Bell Let’s Talk Day

January 28th is Bell Let’s Talk Day; an initiative by Bell Canada to help end the stigma around mental health. For every tweet using #BellLetsTalk, Bell donates $0.05 to the cause.

One of the main reasons people don’t seek treatment for mental health issues is due to stigma. People are embarrassed and ashamed to admit they are suffering and thus they suffer in silence. With mental health issues, not seeking proper treatment can be deadly.

Here are some chilling statistics:

2 out of 3 people don’t seek help because of fear of judgment and rejection

  • Canadian Medical Journal

20% of Canadians will experience some form of mental illness at one point in their lives

  • Canadian Health Research

3 million Canadians are experiencing depression right now

  • Canadian Mental Health Association

20% of post-secondary students have engaged in self-harm

  • Mental Health Commission of Canada

We live in a society that encourages and promotes perfection. From the unattainable photoshopped magazine spreads, advertisements telling us what we need to buy in order to be better, to the constant bombardment of social media outlets that highlight the illusion of perfect lives, to the embedded social construct of the “American Dream”, we are all striving for something. That striving causes us to feel like we just don’t measure up; that we’re not good enough as we are. This in turn can lead to a number of mental health issues including addictions, eating disorders and depression.

The illusion of a perfect society is the exact barrier that encourages shame among those who are suffering. As one may say “Everyone else is fine. No one will understand. I’ve just gotta keep going. I’ll shake it off.” In reality, that line of thinking does not work when it comes to addressing mental health. You can’t “shake off” depression. It is an illness that needs to be treated.

Initiatives like this create an open dialogue around mental illness and make it okay to speak about. If someone came out and said they had cancer, everyone would rally around with support and compassion. When someone says they’re depressed, they can be met with sentiments like “you’ll be fine”, “nothing’s wrong with you”, “you’re being a suck” etc. When someone gets on the bus or the subway in obvious mental distress often they are met with stares and glares instead of compassion; compassion for seeing someone who is suffering, someone who is in crisis, someone who needs support.

We all need to acknowledge that life is complicated at times. That we’re not always doing okay and that is okay. Speaking about mental health and creating a dialogue around it is the only way to begin the process of overcoming the stigma and shame that surrounds it.

Do your part by supporting Bell Let’s Talk Day by sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk. Be part of the change.


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The “I’m Fine” Lie

It is said that “I’m fine” is the most common lie in the world. I believe it. Many of us have shame around feelings of sadness and feel uncomfortable about being open and honest about how they really feel. Whenever you ask someone “how are you?” what is the most common response you get? “I’m fine”. It is quite possible that there are people who actually do feel “fine” and that is an appropriate response for them but as human beings with a wide range of emotions it is quite possible that the person saying “I’m fine” isn’t fine at all.

Facebook and other forms of social media lend itself to this quite well. You could be feeling like crap for any number of reasons and head on Facebook to update your status to something to prove to everyone you are in fact ‘fine’.

We’ve all done it. Maybe we’re coming down with a cold, maybe we just got into an argument with a spouse, maybe we just lost our job and someone says “how are you?” and we respond “I’m fine”. In that moment in fact it is a lie. You’re lying to yourself and to others and are denying your feelings.

In all fairness, maybe the person who asked is only an acquaintance and you’re not that close to that person and really don’t want to open up about all of your personal business. Or as so often happens the person who asks the question is half way down the block before you have an opportunity to reply. So really their body language is saying “I’m asking the question but I don’t really care for the response” So the response tends to be one of the standard ‘acceptable’ responses “I’m fine”, “I’m good”, “I’m alright”, “I’m well” etc.

We also need to be aware of the hidden code words beneath the response. For example “I’m alright”, “I’m surviving”, “I’ve been better” or “I’m okay” can all be code words for “I’m really not doing that great”. If you do hear a code word take some time to show some compassion and ask if they’re really okay and go from there. The best thing we can do to help stop perpetuating this lie is to offer compassion and to be open to hearing genuine responses.

What happens when we keep perpetuating this “I’m fine” lie is we begin to compare ourselves to others. “I’m having such a hard time why is everyone else fine?” The reality is they can be having a shitty day/week/year as well but you’ll never know because of the lie.

We have to stop being such a superficial society that doesn’t want to hear the truth. We also have to stop asking questions we don’t care to know the answer. If you really don’t care how the person is doing then don’t ask. Just say “hello”.

Next time you ask the question “how are you?” a) be sure you want to hear the real answer and if you do hear a real answer respond with compassion b) be sure you look the person in the eye and ask the question genuinely c) be sure you have a moment to hear their response.

Let’s make an effort to make “how are you?” a real genuine question and not just a superficial greeting.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

As one year ends and another begins we usually use this as a time for reflection of where we’ve been and forecasting where we’d like to go. Also this is a time when we declare our New Year’s Resolutions. Which typically go something like this:

– Lose 10lbs
– Get out of debt
– Quit smoking
– Eat healthier
– Volunteer more
– Manage stress

While those are all fantastic goals why not include a tangible goal to improve your mental well-being. Why not pledge to open yourself up more, dispel your secrets and be more authentic.

My New Year’s challenge to you is over the course of this month share 5 things you’re uncomfortable sharing with someone you care about. Once you’ve done that, I want you to pay attention to how doing so makes you feel and also notice whether or not it increases the level of closeness between you and that person. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

A day well lived turns into a week well lived, which turns into a month well lived, which turns into a year well lived. Every year well lived turns into a lifetime well lived. How much better will you feel by the end of 2015 as you reflect on another year gone by that you have been more vulnerable, opened yourself up more and as a result your relationships became more deeply intimate and connected. Doing so is definitely setting the wheels in motion for a life well lived.

May this New Year bring you closer to yourself and others in a deep and meaningful way.