Whether or not you suffer from mental illness, understanding mental health issues - what they are, how they affect people, how you can help - is important for everyone. The Bell Let’s Talk initiative, though flawed in some ways, has helped to start conversations about mental health conditions and the stigma that surrounds it.

By the end of the day tomorrow, Bell will probably have raised over 40 million dollars for mental health support and research programs in Canada since it launched in 2010, and that is amazing. But there is so much more we can all do beyond texting and tweeting one day of the year.

First of all, you should never feel as though you have to speak publicly about things that you don’t want to discuss, but if you feel comfortable, sharing your own story of dealing with mental health conditions can help others who are going through similar experiences. Oftentimes, people with mental health conditions feel as though they are different, which can be isolating, so reinforcing the idea that they are not alone in what they’re feeling can be reassuring.

In recent years, many celebrities have been vocal about their experiences with mental health issues, and learning about Michael Phelps’ suicidal thoughts and Demi Lovato’s bipolar disorder undoubtedly help with destigmatization. But sometimes discovering that someone like you, maybe even someone you know, is going through the same thing you are, can be even more reassuring. Consider talking about your experience when you’re comfortable, it could make both you and the person you confide in feel better.

Another way to help is to listen. Listen to the stories of your loved ones and of strangers. This advice isn’t just for Bell Let’s Talk day or for when people are talking about their struggles with mental health. Try to always listen non-judgmentally and with the intent of truly understanding.  

There are also many organizations you can donate to. Some help people with specific mental illnesses, some focus on a particular group of people based on their age, ethnicity, religion, or socioeconomic status, others help people in particular areas, and others are more focused on research and medicine. Do a little Googling and see if any particular organization speaks to you.

If you don’t have the means to donate money, you can donate your time instead! Check with local organizations to see how you can help out. Whether your graphic design skills could freshen up their website or you could stuff and send envelopes for them, these types of organizations can often use an extra set of hands.

There are lots of other ways to help people living with mental illness, but the most important way is simply to be kind. Always. To everyone you meet. You never know what someone else is going through, and a little bit of kindness can go a long way.  

Vent Over Tea co-founder Chloe Chow is going to be running a workshop at McGill University’s MacDonald campus on Friday February 2 on how to speak up about your own experience with mental illness as well as how to listen effectively, learn more about the event here!

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