It is Bell Canada’s annual “Let’s Talk” Day - by Jim Thomas

Thank you to all my family and friends for your continued support and love ...

It is Bell Canada’s annual “Let’s Talk” Day. The concept behind the event is to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness that continues to permeate our society and to raise funds for research and support. One in five Canadians will be struck with a mental illness in their lifetime. That is a lot of people suffering not only from their disease, but from the effects of stigma, judgment, and prejudice. This figure does not include the people who will be directly affected by having a loved one struggling with mental illness. As the saying goes, “it is the family game – everyone gets to play.” I am a one in five.

The term mental illness covers many specific diseases, just like physical ailments such as cancer. Some of these are easily treated and recovery time is quick. Others are more complex and may require extensive treatment and/or hospitalization. And there are those who will never recover. If left unchecked, it can be no less progressive or fatal than cancer.

Mental illness is NOT a choice, or a sign of moral weakness. I am not lazy, crazy, or stupid. The fact that I have the concurrent disorders of Addiction and PTS, does not make me less of a person and my illnesses no longer define me. I will never be fully cured from either disease. It is incumbent upon me now that I am in recovery, to ensure that I do what is necessary to remain healthy. My journey took me to a hell that I could not imagine existed and cost me everything; up to and including making the decision to take my own life. Why do so many suffer in silence? In my case, it was fear of being labeled and being judged by my peers and family. Pride also played a huge part. Like most emergency services organizations, mine did not understand mental illness. To “come out” with it meant the kiss of death to your career. Stigma causes so much damage and hinders opportunities for recovery. The entire policing culture and environment needs to change. Management needs to take this crisis seriously and not just pay lip service to it. Not long ago, three of my colleagues committed suicide in less than a month. A dear friend of mine attempted suicide in his garage recently. The problem is not going away by producing a smoke and mirrors response. As well, peers must stop crucifying their team mates who lose time from work because of their illness. I have heard such idiotic statements such as, “Oh she just wants the summer off”, or “He needs to get his medication adjusted” with regularity. Those words are cutting and harmful. I can tell you that spending a year of my life in a psychiatric institution was not my idea of a fun-filled, all inclusive vacation.

So please ... Let’s Talk! Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone struggling with a mental health problem. When I was in the hospital, not one colleague (except for my Association Rep and a dear friend) came to visit me. Today, I understand that for the most part, people just did not know what to say and they were afraid of causing further harm. Take it from me - a call, a card of encouragement, or a personal visit goes a long way with someone suffering from any illness. If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed, make the effort to learn about their disease and how you can best support them. There are free or very reasonably priced local courses available such as Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Prevention that offer a wealth of valuable information. Get a Naloxone kit, learn how to use it and keep it readily available in the event you come across someone overdosing on opiates. Put it in your first aid kit along with all of the other life saving equipment you have. When you hear derogatory statements such as, “He’s crazy” or “She’s nuts”, have the courage to confront and educate. Calling someone Crazy is tantamount to hurling a racial slur as far as I am concerned. Finally, don’t feel that you have to put someone in recovery in bubble wrap, or that you have to walk on egg shells around them. Learn how you can provide support when necessary by talking with your loved one. They can tell you how you can best assist them when in crisis.

These are all simple, and doable ways that can make a significant difference in the life of someone dealing with mental illness. Hope you took some time to participate in the Let’s Talk campaign.