Since I first joined Bell in September 2010 to announce the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, Canadians from all walks of life have approached me sharing their stories and thanking me for being part of this. It’s now the second year of this campaign, and what I continue to hear is how important it is to so many Canadians. The response has been incredible and I am excited to see how the conversation about mental health will continue to grow and mental illness become de-stigmatized.
One of the most startling statistics that we often hear is that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. And that doesn’t include the impact on family and friends who watch and worry, often feeling helpless, as a loved one struggles.
Over a decade ago, I was part of this statistic.
Most people find it hard to believe that on the heels of winning my first two Olympic medals at the Atlanta Summer Games in 1996, I descended into a depression. I struggled to rise in the morning, found myself in tears very often, and soon felt as though I was swimming in quicksand. For two years, I fought depression through the darkest days of my life, unable to compete, unable even to smile.
But I was lucky. I was one of the minority who talked about my problems with people who cared – my “circle of trust.” As an athlete, I was surrounded by both the loving support and professional guidance of my family, friends, coaches and fellow athletes. I had access to the tools I needed to make the right decisions, to choose to come back to life, to find the light from the darkness. I talked, and people responded.
Because I continue to reap the rewards of this supportive environment, I’ve been able to manage and prevent depression from dragging me down into darkness again. And when I speak from experience, it’s not just my own that I refer to. How many people I know who have struggled and continue to move though quicksand and hopelessness on a daily basis? This pains me inside.
I speak for them, as well, in hopes of making a difference.
Never have I felt so strongly about an issue. In sharing some of the struggle I’ve had, after sharing so many moments of joy, I hope that I can show that the struggle is only part of being human. You do not have to struggle alone. If I can talk openly about this, so can you.
The Bell Let’s Talk campaign has proven that it is not only the joy that brings us together but the struggle. Because I have shared both ends of my spectrum now, and have been on the receiving end of how people connect to this sharing, I can say in all honesty that there is no difference between the two. Because, after all, we are all human beings who experience highs and lows, struggle and bliss.
What a gift it is to be able to share both.
So, in short, Let’s Talk!
There are voices in the silence, working to erase the stigma. Bell has stepped forward to lead the conversation about mental health and I feel privileged that they have invited me to be the public face of Bell Let’s Talk. Joining me this year to help grow the conversation in Quebec are musician Stefie Shock and comedian Michel Mpambara. As part of the campaign that is unfolding across the country, people will be encouraged to spread the word about mental health.
On the second annual Bell Let’s Talk Day on Wednesday February 8, Bell will contribute five cents for every text message sent and every long distance call made by Bell customers to mental health related initiatives across the country. But this is only just the start.
To further stimulate the conversation, people are invited to join in at Bell Let’s Talk . Here you can learn more about the impact of stigma on mental health, as well as find ways to begin your own conversations at home and in the workplace.
You can also help spread the word through social media. Follow us on Twittter@Bell_Letstalk and join us on February 8 to retweet Bell’s message. For each retweet, Bell will contribute another 5 cents to mental health initiatives. You can also like us on Facebook , and show your support by sharing your smile with a friend.
Whether it’s talking about mental health on the phone, on the Internet, or across the kitchen or boardroom table, starting the conversation is a critical part of enabling everybody to have the same opportunity to heal that I had.
Please, join the conversation at Bell Let’s Talk