As a mental health provider, it’s heartening to see a growing public conversation about mental health. This conversation, amplified by initiatives like last month’s Bell Let’s Talk campaign, helps to lessen the stigma around mental illness. We still have work to do, but we’re making progress.
This year, one of Bell Let’s Talk’s spokespeople was broadcaster Michael Landsberg. In a video created for the campaign, Michael tells a story about publicly sharing his battle with mental health, which he says “changed his life”.
“The next day I started to hear from people saying it was the first time in their life they have heard two people speak about their struggles with mental illness without sounding ashamed, without sounding embarrassed, without sounding weak.”
“One person was in the process of hanging himself when I responded to his email,” he continues. “He had a belt on a hook in his cupboard and I responded to his email and he heard the computer go and he thought to himself, well, could be my family. I’d better go answer because I don’t want them showing up. But it was me. And he answered me, and then he went back to finish the job. And then I answered him again and we went back and forth six times and the last time he decided, ‘You know what? This guy makes a little bit of sense. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go for help.’ And he went for help the next day. And two and a half years later, he sent me a picture of him and his newborn baby. And four months ago I was the best man at his wedding. Someone I’ve only met once in my life. But that changed my life.”
Landsberg’s experience illustrates the power of stepping out and sharing your mental health story. Unfortunately, people are still often afraid to share their stories. Historically, that’s been particularly true of men – with sometimes devastating consequences.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, among Canadians of all ages, four out of every five suicides are male.
Why? In large part, it’s because men are less likely to seek help when they’re struggling. And why’s that? It’s complicated, but societal norms are largely to blame.
According to recent research from Indiana University Bloomington, the more men adhered to traditional norms of masculinity, the more likely they were to have poor mental health practices and the less likely they were to hold “favourable attitudes toward seeking psychological help.”
Dr. Don McCreary, co-chair of the Toronto Men’s Health Network, believes that we have created a culture where men feel that they have to be tough and strong. “Our society is very good at punishing gender deviation in men. Weakness is not considered to be masculine.”
That’s why these stories from people like Howie Mandel and Michael Landsberg are so powerful – they represent a rejection of the idea that speaking out and seeking help is a sign of weakness.
Of course, seeking help and speaking out don’t necessarily need to go hand in hand. It’s perfectly alright if you’re not ready to share your struggle with those around you. Starling allows you to access mental health support in the privacy of your own home. Even if you aren’t struggling right now, accessing Starling periodically can help you process your feelings and assess your mental health functioning before any problems arise.
According to one of our members, Todd, Starling gave him the tools to start expressing his feelings.
“I grew up in a family where talking about emotions wasn’t something to do on a regular basis,” Todd says. “Everyone has feelings, but boys and men don’t talk about them so much. I didn’t really have a vocabulary to talk about these things. With Starling, one of the ways it helps is to give me some language to talk about my emotional and mental health I didn’t have before. It’s an eye-opening thing.”