A Movement Is Stirring. This Is It.
In the wake of #BellLetsTalk day, one thing is extremely clear: people now more than ever are ready, willing, and excited to have conversations about mental health. Considering the long history of stigma against those affected by mental illness, it’s heartening to see such a tremendous amount of people across the country coming forward and sharing their stories.
For thousands of years, the mentally ill have been mistreated.
The word “stigma” itself traces back to Ancient Greece, where stigmas were marks to brand slaves and clearly denote them as inferior.
People in these ancient cultures used to believe mental illness was a symptom of demonic possession, and they would literally poke holes in the heads of those afflicted to “let the evil spirits out”.
As centuries passed, the mentally ill were imprisoned.
They were shackled to walls.
They were tortured.
It wasn’t until relatively recently that mental illness began to be seen, widespread, as something to be treated and cured. The late 1800s saw the advent of psychiatric hospitals and closure of asylums, and the late 1900s saw a radical increase in outpatient care and deinstitutionalization.
And though stigma persisted, peaking with the hundreds of thousands of mentally ill killed or sterilized in Nazi Germany, the last few decades are testament that we have had enough.
People are ready to talk.
A few groups in support of mental health in the early-to-mid 1900s trickled into larger organizations as the millennium came to a close.
In the last decade, this call for support became a movement.
Individuals of all ages and backgrounds have come together across the country to show their support and normalize the topic of mental health.
Notice the shift: we’re no longer talking just about mental illness, but also about mental health.
Because we may not all have mental illness, but we do all have mental health.
Let me say that again:
We may not all have mental illness, but we all have mental health.
And that is reason alone to keep carrying the conversation forward.
Take a look at how we’re doing:
That graph shows the number of interactions incited by the #BellLetsTalk campaign in the last 7 years.
Yesterday, we surpassed last year’s number with over 138 million interactions.
That’s over 138 million times someone shared or consumed content exploring the topic of mental health.
Over 138 million instances of bravery.
Whether or not you’re a person who’s enraged by the “corporate agenda” of #BellLetsTalk, this campaign is nothing if not empowering to those of us affected by mental illness.
Every year, more and more people gather to tell each other not only that it’s okay and that they’ve got each other’s backs, but that they’re all going through the same crap, too.
For the first time in literally millennia, crowds are coming forward, unabashed and unashamed of their experiences. Seeing this day as an opportunity to share their story, hundreds of thousands of people take to social media and to social gatherings to sing their song, loud and proud.
Yes, this is a conversation that needs to continue everyday beyond #BellLetsTalk day.
But if anything, this campaign is telling of just how badly people crave connection, and just how much they’re itching to share their experience with another human.
Yes, there’s heaps more to do for mental health than “just talking about it”. Yes, we need policy changes. Yes, we need more resources. Yes, we need better education.
But just the fact that we manage, each and every year, to gather more and more people to band together in an effort to normalize mental health is a huge step forward.
The important thing now is to just keep talking.