Many people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, socio-economic status are affected by mental illness, whether it is something they live with themselves, or have family and/or friends that have some form of mental illness. Many suffer in silence because of the fear and stigma associated with having a mental illness, and don’t seek treatment, or are unable to continue treatment. While some of us have periods when we’re feeling down or anxious and it’s something we cope with, there are others for which mental illness is a lifelong struggle, and at times completely debilitating, both mentally and physically.
The following are just a few facts from Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
- Mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population (CMHA)
- In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them. (CMHA)
- 2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgement and rejection (CMA)
- 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life (CIHR)
- At this very moment, some 3 million Canadians are suffering from depression (CMHA)
- Mental health problems and illnesses also account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism. (MHCC)
(More facts on mental health and mental illness in Canada available: here).
In 2010, Bell Canada set up a new multi-year charitable campaign program called Bell Let’s Talk, to raise money and awareness for mental illness and mental health, and since then the charity has raised over $62 million nationally. The initiative set out to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, to help provide community care and access to mental health services across the country, to assist with workplace mental health, and funding towards mental health research.
One such person has set out to help raise awareness of mental illness and work towards eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness, and that is Clara Hughes. The six time Canadian Olympian has won medals in both summer (cycling) and winter (speed skating) Olympic Games. After the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, where she won two medals, she had thought that medals would fill an emptiness inside her but she had fallen into a severe depression. At first, partially because of the shame surrounding mental illness, she didn’t seek help but eventually she did. She was fortunate in that she had the support of her spouse, friends, her sponsors, physicians, and sporting organizations that allowed her as much time as she needed to get treatment. But she acknowledges that she was lucky, that not everyone has that kind of support when dealing with mental illness.
When the Bell Let’s Talk initiative began, Clara decided she wanted to be involved with the program, looking for a way to become involved, and shortly thereafter decided to come public with her struggles with depression. Over the past four years, Clara has been a key speaker in the Bell Let’s Talk Day, talking about her struggles with mental illness, with the goal that by publicly speaking about it, and encouraging others to do so as well, it will help to de-stigmatize mental illness.
Since 2010, Bell Let’s Talk Day has contributed over $62 million dollars towards mental health initiatives in Canada. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, 28th January, 5 cents from each call from Bell landline along with 96 million calls and texts from Bell mobility customers was donated towards mental health programs, an amount that reached $4.2 million. In 2014, Bell Let’s Talk day ran a multi-platform fundraising effort so that people that weren’t Bell customers could help donate funds for mental health initiatives in Canada. They could tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk or share the Bell Let’s Talk Day image on Facebook. This year, a record number, 109,451,718 calls, texts, tweets and shares – not only in Canada now but across North America using the twitter hashtag (3,016,621) or Facebook shares (313,151) contributed to donations, reaching $5,472,585.90. In 2014, Clara was also joined by other spokespersons in the Let’s Talk campaign: Shea Emry, Joé Juneau (sports), Matthew Good, Robb Nash (musicians), Kevin Breel (comedian), Michel Mpambara, Seamus O’Regan and Stefie Shock (media).
In 2014, Clara Hughes, set a new goal of mental health awareness as she set out on 14th March in Toronto on a 110 day, 12,000km bicycle tour across Canada; spanning every province and territory, she is stopping in 95 cities and towns along the way, to talk with Canadians, young and old, in particular stopping at schools and talking with youth about mental illness, to help de-stigmatize mental illness. She began training in the fall of 2013 in Arizona, but as she started in mid-March in Ontario, going eastwards, she’s faced snow, sleet, rain and sun. With a tour bus, and support staff including her husband and other riders, Clara averages about 90-190km per day. The ride will conclude on Canada Day in Ottawa, Ontario.
On 8th April, Clara peddled 96km through a rainy day from Woodstock, NB to Fredericton, NB. I had the opportunity to see her speak at Government House in the afternoon, and as a guest speaker at the Women and Wellness event held at Fredericton High School in the evening. It was a heartwarming presentation and sometimes quite humourous, where she spoke of he personal experiences in dealing with depression, and interactions that she’s had, particularly with children who’ve had their own experiences with mental illness. Other guest speakers in the Women in Wellness event included Maureen Bilerman who spoke of the Dots NB program. Dots NB is a local champion for Clara’s Big Ride, and it is a New Brunswick initiative for Kids’ Mental Health through Youth, Family & Community Empowerment, Joan Mix (Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick), and Janice Butler (a motivational speaker).
To find more information, check out Clara’s Big Ride, where you can support the ride and donate funds towards the Bell Let’s Talk initiative.
Where to go for help if you need it:
Children: Visit Kids Help Phone or call 1-800-668-6868
Adults: Visit Canadian Mental Health Association
If you’re in a crisis situation, call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital.
Interviews and other links:
Join the Conversation: Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk
CTV News W5 Program Interview – Hard work and passion as Clara Hughes gets ready to ride for mental health awareness
Strombo (2012) – Interview with Clara Hughes
Dots NB Story: Connecting the Dots