Emily Goodwin | Editor-in-Chief
Featured image courtesy of Jordan Chu, Photo/Video Editor
Bell Let’s Talk Day has arrived and across campus you can see people donning blue toques with the little white smiley-face-and-speech-bubble logo. It’s a time when student groups and the university alike go all-out to talk about mental health and wellness.
There are so many resources and services available to help with feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and the like at York that it can be overwhelming figuring out what the best option is for you. At least the options are there, unlike at some other universities that have little to no support available for student mental health needs.
It’s great that we’re finally moving into a place where we can discuss all of our feelings — not just the shiny, happy ones. And, it’s great that Bell Let’s Talk Day has played a major role in this movement.
However, in these conversations about mental health, what’s often excluded is mental illness.
Yes, when negative mental health exists long enough it can turn into an illness, so it is important to focus on strategies to improve and reflect upon one’s mental health. However, stopping at mental health doesn’t help those who are already at the point of illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed. It also doesn’t help that we only speak about mental health meaningfully at this time of year, and that for a few weeks its social media filters and tags are the new fad before mental health and wellness fades into the background.
Emphasizing positive mental health practices — such as exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep — isn’t enough for those who struggle on a regular basis, not just in January. It can make those who are mentally ill feel like they did something wrong, that somehow their illness is entirely their fault, and that can be dangerous to someone who is already struggling with mental illness(es).
So, in the same way that we’re moving forward and breaking down the stigma around discussing mental health, we’re often neglecting thoughtful conversation and education about mental illness. We’re neglecting an already vulnerable group who doesn’t feel like they belong, and further ostracizing them.
What Bell Let’s Talk festivities need isn’t more talk about mental health, it needs more talk about the illnesses that can result from prolonged poor mental health. It’s talking about what anxiety can look like, or depression or obsessive compulsive disorder, or any other number of mental illnesses. And, it’s talking about how harmful it can be when someone who doesn’t have one of those illnesses uses them as adjectives to describe their quirks.
The Bell Let’s Talk initiative raises a lot of money every year that goes toward making mental health support services more accessible, and the conversation it sparks at this time of year is important. However, it’s a conversation that needs to be continued and be made more inclusive. Mental health and mental illness are equally important every other day of the year.
If we can’t have comfortable conversations about mental illness, we’ll struggle to understand why those who practice good mental health habits can also be the same people who have a mental illness.