COLUMN: Use #BellLetsTalk to ignite the mental health conversation all year long

‘Dealing with mental illness can be a long, lonely, and winding road’

Kevin J. Sabo

By Kevin J. Sabo

For the Advance

As January 2021 draws to a close, we find ourselves on the dawn of another Bell Let’s Talk day.

The event, started in January of 2011 to help shed light on a topic usually discussed in the shadows, seeks to normalize the conversation surrounding mental health and mental illness. This year Bell’s Let’s Talk day is occurring on Jan. 28th, and the company will donate $0.05 per applicable video view, text message, or #BellLetsTalk hashtag use to mental health initiatives country-wide.

Those funds are much needed, everywhere, especially in this time of COVID-19. The last year has been one of the most stressful years many of us have had.

The economy has crumbled. Job losses are mounting. Mental health related stress is becoming all too common.

I applaud Bell Canada for developing this day, and shining a light on a rather dark topic; but, there are 365 days in a year.

The discussion surrounding mental illness and mental health issues doesn’t just last one day; instead, that one day should be used to start the conversation all year long.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will develop a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives.

It can happen to any of us.

Thanks to initiatives brought forward by companies like Bell, the conversation around mental health is changing, though the stigma surrounding mental health issues continue to linger.

Much work has been done, yet much more work remains to be done.

I speak from personal experience when I say that the stigma surrounding mental illness is real. It’s cost me jobs. It’s cost me relationships. People have struggled to understand why I can’t just “snap out of it” or “just be happy.”

The stigma has left my confidence shaken. It’s had me doubting myself, and my own worth.

However, thanks to people that stood by me, people who never gave up on me, I learned not to give up on myself. I’ve learned that mental illness is not a weakness.

It’s not a character flaw. It just is something I have to deal with.

The reason I share my story isn’t because I look for sympathy, but instead to give hope to others who may be struggling.

Dealing with mental illness can be a long, lonely, and winding road. My journey has been full of challenges over the years, and I walked through a lot of it alone, not because I was physically alone, but because the illness made me lonely. I had my wife and friends who supported me the best they could, but at the end of the day, they just didn’t know how to be there for me.

I’ve struggled with mental illness for the last two decades of my life, and I never thought things would get better. I still struggle, but I am also a testament that things can improve.

The last two decades have been hell, and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone, though, I don’t know what I would necessarily change.

My hope is that by sharing my story, someone who is struggling will feel less alone.

My hope is that my story can give someone else peace and courage to have the difficult conversations, to get the help they need.

Ultimately, my goal is to ignite the conversation surrounding mental health and mental illness. Bell Canada’s initiative can go a long way towards helping with that goal, so instead of treating it as one day where mental health is in your face, use it as a spark to ignite the conversation all year long.

You never know whose life you may save, just by having an honest conversation.

If you are struggling, contact the Alberta Mental Health Hotline at 1-877-303-2642, or contact 811. In an emergency, call 911. Help is available. You’re not walking this journey alone.