"The Banner Issue": #BellLetsTalk Day 2016

Today is January 27th. To some, it is just another day filled with hours of class, labs and responsibilities. For others, however, it is a chance to continue the dialogue surrounding mental health through campaigns such as Bell’s “Let’s Talk” Day.

Today, Bell will donate five cents to a mental health initiative for every text message sent, mobile and long distance call made, anything tweeted using the #BellLetsTalk, or Facebook image shared by a Bell or Bell Aliant customer. Though the program is meant to be a multi-year charitable program dedicated to mental health, unfortunately, conversations around mental health still occur very sparingly. Further, despite all the initiatives and strategies that universities and colleges have launched to combat the growing concerns of anxiety and stress on campuses, mental health is still what U of T student and Rhodes scholar Kaleem Hawa refers to as “…the banner issue of our generation."

So why is that as a sector that strives for inclusivity and accessibility, while discouraging generalizations and dismissive actions, mental health still needs to be outlined as one of our key priorities?

Could it be due to the fact that some still believe that “mental illness” is used as an excuse for bad behaviour? Or that the attempts of respected and celebrated people to highlight mental health can be off-putting? While I am thankful that a multitude of celebrities are using their name and elevated status to bring more attention to mental health, I know that some who suffer feel forced to silence their voices for fear of the attention they will receive. They worry that either their peers will rush at the chance to help or “fix” them, and possibly cause more frustration, or inadvertently inform them of how their own experiences are misinformed. Moreover, there is valid apprehension that once they have publically acknowledged their mental health, their peers will see them only by that qualifier.

Or could it be that the attempts made to bring mental health to the forefront of our discussions, such as critically examining our use of vocabulary, are presenting some of the biggest hurdles? Not a day passes where I do not find myself worrying about how to properly phrase a question or statement. The labels, acronyms and nouns we use can make it very difficult for those less well versed to jump into the discourse.

While I agree that great strides have been made, the conversation about mental health on campuses has only just begun. Further, while I am glad that campaigns like Bell “Let’s Talk” Day bring this topic to the attention of the world, I wish that similar engagement continued past just one day of the year. Hopefully, there will come a day where there will be no "stop and start" to the recognition of mental health and corresponding initiatives.

Kayla Enriquez
McMaster University Student