“I want to rape my mother!” said my client in the text message that I opened first thing Monday morning. No case manager wants this as their first job assignment, at the beginning of a work week.
The Crisis Line
This particular young man has a history of saying shocking things, but actually doing none of them. Still, it’s my job to help ensure that his words don’t become actions. So, the first thing I did on that Monday morning was pick up the phone and call him. “Oh, I’m fine,” he told me. “I was just angry and had to vent. It was the weekend, and I knew you weren’t working. So, I called the crisis line, and they talked me down.”
A Phone Call Away
This may sound like an extreme case, but it’s not. Psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral health specialists, crisis responders, case managers, and other mental health professionals deal with this stuff all the time. And when we’re off work (because who wants to be on call 24/7?) it’s the amazing folks on the crisis hotlines who talk with our clients.
I’m so grateful for the telephone! And so grateful for the new 988 suicide and crisis lifeline. It’s like dialing 911, but instead of getting fire, rescue, or police, you get mental health assistance. It started in the US (where I work) in July, 2022, and will launch in Canada (where I live) on November 30, 2023. It’s good to know that help is a phone call away.
Bell Let’s Talk Day
In Canada, Bell has created a special initiative, Bell Let’s Talk Day, on January 25.
The largest-ever corporate commitment to mental health in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk is focused on four key action pillars: Anti-stigma, Care and Access, Research and Workplace Leadership. Since its launch in September 2010, Bell Let’s Talk has partnered with more than 1,300 organizations to provide mental health supports and services throughout Canada, including hospitals, universities, local community service providers and other care and research organizations.
By their initiative, Bell says it has created the world’s largest conversation about mental health. And more conversation is what we need. As ending the stigma is one of Bell’s four pillars, that’s what I want to focus on today.
Ending the Stigma
I confess that the first sentence of my article was an attention-grabber. But now that I’ve got your attention, let’s end the stigma by saying that thoughts like this are more common than many people would think. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association,
- By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness.”
- Mental illnesses are caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors.
- Life events such as violence and trauma during childhood or adulthood can give rise to mental health and substance use problems if supports for recovery are not available or sought.
- Environmental factors play an important role in our mental health: access to safe and affordable housing, meaningful education and employment, leisure activities, the support of a community, access to land and nature, freedom from violence, and good access to health care and mental health services all support good mental health.
- Stigma and discrimination attached to mental illnesses and substance use problems present a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to access to employment, housing, and other basic necessities. Stigma both creates and deepens social marginalization.
- The symptoms of mental illnesses can be treated and very often managed effectively; with the right supports, people with mental illnesses can thrive.
If you’re having disturbing thoughts, it doesn’t mean you’re “crazy.” That stigmatizing word does nothing but prevent people from getting the help they need. Your overwhelming thoughts or emotions don’t make you a bad person. Just like someone with hypertension or diabetes, it could mean you need some medication to help balance the chemicals in your body. Or you might need to adjust something in your routine, like seeing a doctor more regularly or modifying your diet, sleep, and exercise. Or, you may just need to talk with someone who can listen and give wise insight.
The first step isn’t reaching out for help. Reaching out is the second step. The first is knowing that it’s normal to feel how you’re feeling and that it’s okay to get some help for it. Reach out to your local provider for help.
How You Can Be All EARS
If you know someone who’s struggling, Bell Let’s Talk suggests four ways that you can be all EARS for them:
- Engage and Open a Conversation.
- Actively listen and encourage self-expression
- Refer to resources and ask how you can help
- Stay in touch and follow up
Telephone lifelines are amazing, and online support is invaluable. But YOU may be the best support for your family and friends. By making yourself available, by being all EARS for them, you just might save a life.
If I Believe, Won’t Jesus Heal Me?
Because this is a religion blog, I feel the need to address this question. Many churches and religious leaders have suggested that mental illness is really just demonic obsession, oppression, or possession. They claim that this is a matter of faith, not medicine or counseling. Jesus, the Great Physician, provides all the healing you need, they say.
Messaging like this only increases the stigma of mental illness and diminishes the likelihood that people will get the help they need. Most Christians aren’t opposed to going to the physician for physical illness—the apostle Luke was a doctor, after all. If that’s the case, then why should we turn to supernatural healers for mental illness? If God gave us physicians for medical needs, then God also gave us mental health professionals for psychiatric needs. We need to avail ourselves of all good resources for our healing.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Mental illness is a thief that steals people’s joy, kills their rational thought, and sometimes destroys their will to live. Jesus wants people healed—but it’s not as if you’ll get better by simply praying enough. You’ve got to make use of the resources that God provides—because Jesus generally healed in the context of community. If you’re hurting, reach out for assistance. If you’re afraid you’ll hurt yourself or others, reach out even faster. There’s help available. You don’t have to do this thing alone.