Last week, I was thrilled to see the response on Twitter to Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk Day, in which the telecommunications company pledged to contribute 5¢ to mental health initiatives for every tweet sent with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. According to their website, “122, 150, 772 million tweets, texts, calls, and shares” were made, leading to a $6,107,538.60 donation from Bell to Canadian mental health programs. The #BellLetsTalk hashtag was the #1 trend on Twitter yesterday worldwide, showing how important this topic is to the world at large.
The impetus behind Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is the desire to start conversations about mental health, and to shine a light on mental health stigma. Mental health stigma is the prejudice and discrimination faced by those who have mental health problems. In honor of Bell’s Let’s Talk Day and the phenomenal response to Bell’s fundraising initiative, let’s take a look at mental health stigma and explore how the Duchess of Cambridge is also helping to raise awareness for mental health issues and treatment, particularly in youth and children.
There are two different forms of mental health stigma. One is social stigma, in which people with mental health problems must cope with negative attitudes and discrimination from others in their social circle or in the workplace. Relating this topic back to the article I wrote last month, in essence this is a form of bullying against those with mental illnesses. The other form of mental health stigma is self-stigma, in which someone with mental health struggles or psychological disorders internalizes these social prejudices and feels shame and embarrassment for their distress. Some examples of mental health stigma include telling someone who has social anxiety that “You’re just shy,” or believing that all people with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous. Other examples include referring to a thin woman as “anorexic” or jokingly calling a friend “retarded” for doing something silly.
As Bell’s Let’s Talk Day emphasizes, these two types of mental health stigma lead to a lack of conversation about mental health, treatment, and prevention. It also creates a negative spiral, in which the prejudice and discrimination associated with psychological problems leads to a lack of discussion about it, which in turn leads to further shame, embarrassment, and stigmatization of people who suffer from mental illnesses. Further, the prejudice against mental health, the lack of discussion about it, and the lack of clear knowledge in the general public about mental health disorders lessens the number of people who acknowledge that they have a mental health problem and reduces the likelihood that they will seek treatment. Finally, research has shown that victims of mental health stigma (both social stigma and self-stigma) do not respond as well to treatment, if they get treatment at all. It’s difficult enough to have to cope with mental illness; those who suffer shouldn’t have to bear additional prejudice and shame.
Some of the patronages of the Duchess of Cambridge help to foster communication and discussion about mental health issues, and it is wonderful to see that her involvement with these organizations raises awareness of mental health concerns across the world. Action on Addiction addresses the problems of substance addiction and its impact on families, The Art Room provides safe spaces and creative outlets for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties, and Place2Be offers school-based mental health services for children. Other members of the Royal family also support mental health patronages. For instance, the Prince of Wales is Patron of Combat Stress, an organization that helps veterans with mental health concerns, and of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Countess of Wessex is President of Brainwave, a charity that helps children with developmental delays, and of The National Autistic Society, which helps children with autism, and Princess Alexandra is Patron of the Alzheimers Society, which helps those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Dementia along with their caregivers, and of the Mental Health Foundation, which develops care services for the “mentally disabled.”
The Duchess of Cambridge and the Royal family see the importance of raising awareness for mental health care, and the outpouring of support on Twitter for Bell’s Let’s Talk Day echoes the necessity of erasing mental health stigma. It isn’t shameful to have a mental illness, anymore than it is shameful to have a heart attack or to be blind. Our mental health is as vital a part of our general wellbeing as is our physical health, and we should do our best to support those in need of treatment and in need of love and care.