Celebrities like Howie Mandel are urging people to open up about mental health. Screenshot, letstalk.bell.ca

Let’s keep talking mental health issues

Campaign aims to bring issues out of the dark

As I write this, it’s Jan. 30, or the day we’re supposed to talk about mental health. So I will.

This campaign has had Bell as a major sponsor and has attracted well-known people in an effort to remove the stigma around mental health. Olympian Clara Hughes has been at the forefront and talked about her own battles with depression.

Let’s Talk features the voices of people like Seth Rogen, Ellen DeGeneres, Mike Babcock and Howie Mandel. (Only recently did I hear Mandel in an interview talking about his serious OCD. He’s deathly scared of germs. His famous rubber glove on the head gag happened, in part, because he always had a glove at the ready.)

The issue is no laughing matter though. As I’ve said before, I was married to someone who suffered from serious depression. She tried reducing her dosage at a turbulent period, with frightening results. There was one night I went to the kitchen to stash any sharp knives after she finally went to sleep. Fortunately, there weren’t more like this.

When we separated, we made it as easy as possible on each other, but I still slid into a period of chronic insomnia, and after four months of my usual tricks to sleep, I enlisted my doctor. I’m not a fan of taking pills, especially as a first line of defence, but he put me on a low dose to take the edge off at bed time. Eventually, after things settled down, I weaned myself off them.

I’ve always had anxiety. It causes me no end of frustration. It forced me to walk on the other side of the street when I was a kid if I recognized someone approaching, unless I knew them well. At lot of this was fueled by childhood grief over a couple of deaths in the family, but of course no one talked about anything then.

These days, sometimes I feel people over-share (like I’m doing now). Yet, many people still struggle to open up. Sometimes they don’t want to leave themselves vulnerable with people they know well. That’s one advantage of things like support groups. You can go, spill your guts in front of people who have faced similar conflicts and leave it there, or some of it anyway. A guy who ran the grief group I went to always told me when he started going he always felt like he got a little more of the poison out of his system each time.

Of course, talking is not always enough. One editorial this week said as much. Obviously, we need resources, but at least by starting the conversation, we might get a better idea of what is needed.

Some people still don’t get it. After Robin Williams’ high-profile suicide, Gene Simmons offered no sympathy and cited his mother, a concentration camp survivor, as an example of choosing life after facing the worst (he later apologized). I felt like pointing out the example of Primo Levi, a writer and chemist who also survived the camps. At 67 though, suffering from depression, he jumped to his death.

The point here is many people still do not understand or take mental issues seriously. The lesson though is even if you can’t see what’s ailing someone, it doesn’t mean it’s not really there.

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