Dementia. Depression. Burnout. In the past few years, mental illness has been increasingly present around me. I've seen people I love suffer, without really knowing how I could help them. I search for the right words, the comforting gestures, the right things to do, and I cross my fingers, hoping these things will make an appreciable difference in their lives. Concerning my loved one who has dementia, I feel her gradually slipping away. I can see the day coming when we will be miles away from this dear person sitting right next to us.
I wish I could go inside their heads and deliver them from their pain. I want to know what it is they're experiencing, but I think that unless you've gone through it, it's impossible to really understand. I know that loving them is probably the best thing I can do. It's also our responsibility to get them to consult a professional, even if this suggestion is met with resistance. Tough love, as they say! Loving someone also means acting in the other person's best interests, even if it makes you unpopular.
Two books have helped me understand depression a little better, Les Carnets d’une désobéissante by Geneviève St-Germain as well as the touching yet disturbing book by Florence K, Buena Vida in which she eloquently describes her state of mind, including this passage that particularly struck me: " I try to resist. I resist once, twice, I hold it together for almost 30 seconds. But the current is too strong. I'm swept away. I'm gone again. My mind can't stop racing in every direction. I'm hot, I'm sweating, I start to cry, to hyperventilate. Even if I try with all my might, all my heart, every fibre of my being to come back to earth, the battle is lost. I'm drained."
The statistics are frightening. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, every Canadian is indirectly affected by mental illness, be it through a family member, friend or colleague.
Twenty per cent of Canadians will themselves suffer from mental illness in the course of their lives. Among youth, 3.2 million Canadians between the ages of 12 and 19 years are at risk for developing depression. WHAT?? That's 3.2 million too many!
As television host Karine Champagne put it, "Cries for help are heard every day. Let's raise the veil. Silence kills. There's no reason to be ashamed."
On January 27, discussions will be spurred thanks to Bell's Let's Talk Canada initiative, but in reality we should be talking about it throughout the year. Mental illness is still a taboo subject. To some, mental illness is a sign of weakness. Mental illness scares people.
I hope that one day we, as a society, will have as much empathy for someone experiencing depression as for someone with cancer. In both cases, the illness takes hold of our bodies and leaves scars that mark us for life, and can even lead to our death.
For my loved ones who are suffering, sometimes in silence, I must continue to be there to listen to them, comfort them and, above all, love them unconditionally, without judgement. You are not alone. I love you.
**** Note: On January 27, Bell will give an additional 5 cents to mental health initiatives for each tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk and each share of the Bell Let's Talk image on Facebook. Thank you for participating.