Depression: Let's Talk

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February 20, 2012
Terrell and Janna Wiebe |

“Clinical depression is not just unhappiness, it’s a mood disorder, but more than half of us still believe it is a weakness not a sickness.”

- Michael Landsberg in Darkness and Hope: Depression, Sports and Me

The above quote is taken from a special documentary that aired on TSN Wednesday, February 8th. I was very pleased that TSN and its partner CTV would engage in such a meaningful and well deserved topic. If you are interested the documentary remains on tsn.ca for viewing.

Mental health awareness has been gaining momentum over the past several years. I have no doubt that ten years ago the percentage of population that saw depression and other mental health issues as weaknesses rather than diagnosable sicknesses would have been well above the fifty percent mark, and in another ten year I expect it to be well below. The Canadian public’s understanding of mental health has shifted dramatically of late and one of the biggest causes for this is current and former athletes.

In 2009 three major league baseball players were placed on their team’s disabled list not for an ankle sprain or a vague upper body injury, but for anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. That was public knowledge. An article from The Wall Street Journal says this,

Acknowledging debilitating psychological issues represents a significant shift for a sport that historically has emphasized 'gutting it out' rather than admitting to injury. The problem may be as old as the pastime, but acceptance of mental-health issues in Major League Baseball has only emerged in the last few years.

Since then a large number of current and former athletes from a variety of sports have come forward to say that they struggle or have struggled with an array of mental health disorders. What this does for the general publics view on mental health is see that if it is okay to talk about mental health struggles on national television it should be okay for us as well. If athletes are willing to share their struggles then I should be able to share mine. It also reaches an audience of sports lovers who might have grown up with a “tough it out” and don’t show any vulnerability mentality.

We are in the middle of mental health week with the focus in Canada surrounding Bell Let’s Talk day on February 8th. With the face of summer and winter Olympian Clara Hughes acting as their front person Bell launched a multiyear program to engage mental health across our country.

This quote is taken from Bell’s website:

'In 2010, Bell announced the launch of an unprecedented multi-year charitable program dedicated to the promotion and support of mental health across Canada. Over the next several years, this multi-million dollar initiative will support a wide range of programs that will enhance awareness, understanding and treatment of mental illness and promote access to care and research across the country.'

Often invisible, mental illness is one of the most pervasive health issues in the country with far-reaching consequences for every Canadian. One in five people will experience a form of mental illness at some point and most will be reluctant to talk to a co-worker, friend or family member about their struggle, let alone seek treatment. While you may never experience mental illness first-hand, it is likely that you know someone who will.

Bell is introducing an extensive array of initiatives to support anti-stigma, increased access to care, additional research and the creation of an overall culture of mental health support across the Canadian business landscape.

In my mind, Bell’s most important initiative is creating an overall culture of mental health support. Our culture still remains in fear of mental health. How can we be a part of fostering a culture of support in our society? Perhaps it starts for each of us with fostering support and openness in our workplace, with our friends, and in our families. Above all I think that Bell’s motto for the day is appropriate if we ever want to rid our society of the apprehension surrounding mental health. Let’s Talk!

Terrell Wiebe

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