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Let's Talk About Bell Let's Talk

Since its inception (January 2011), Bell Let’s Talk has remained the largest mental health awareness effort in Canada: Originally a five-year, fifty-million-dollar program which aimed to help create stigma-free//action-driven environments in relation to mental-health-care and research, it was renewed for another five years in 2015. 

Bell Let’s Talk has partnered with over 1,000 organizations who have provided over 3,409,680 Canadians with access to mental health services:

  • $100,695,763.75 has been committed to mental health initiatives in Canada.
  • 2,235,043 Canadians have been able to access crisis and distress lines.
  • 1,451,375 volunteers have been trained in mental health support.
  • $5,000-25,000 grants are granted to projects that improve access to mental health care.
  • 86% of Canadians have reported increased awareness of mental health issues.

The ‘social responsibility initiative’ encourages individuals to use their social media platforms to increase awareness of mental health illness and reduce stigma—the most prominent aspect of the campaign being ‘Bell Let’s Talk Day’ (January 29, 2020), a day when the corporation funds mental health initiatives based on support messages sent via their cellular network (in addition to filters, videos, and hashtags— #bellletstalk #bellcause). 

These statistics are worth taking a moment to celebrate—we have come a long way in the last decade in relation to mental health awareness, corporate action, and fund//support raising.

In the midst of celebration and reflection, however, I still have a question.

Will ending mental health stigma be enough?

Clarification: I am in no way attempting to communicate that conversations, which aim to end stigma and create awareness, are not important. But we are a culture largely unwilling to endure the challenging work of transformation. We create environments fuelled by conversation, awareness, and advocacy while we neglect our own basic human needs. 

We have all heard the idiom ‘talk is cheap,’ yet when it comes to mental health, sharing our own experiences has become the means of remedying a culture plagued by anxiety and depression. 

Can we all agree that conversation is simply the starting point?

Conversations and awareness initiatives must simply function as on-ramps towards cultural health and renewal—the aim, after all, is not grounded solely in ending stigma, but moving towards decreased rates of anxiety and depression, and increased rates of flourishing. 

Adding connection to conversation

How do we get there?

According to specialists, anxiety and depression have three root causes: biological, psychological, and sociological (specialists refer to the paradigm as bio-psycho-social). These three facets of our humanity relate to our overall mental health, but interestingly, we tend to focus on biological and psychological factors, and neglect our sociological factors.

Our neglect of sociological factors has become detrimental to our mental health in Canada, because the reality is that all humans experience anxiety and depression based on life circumstances. 

We have all heard the idiom ‘talk is cheap,’ yet when it comes to mental health, sharing our own experiences has become the means of remedying a culture plagued by anxiety and depression. Can we all agree that conversation is simply the starting point?

It actually makes perfect sense—every challenging situation, source of stress, or lack of support will accelerate the risk of anxiety and depression. We should grasp this: for a significant portion of humans, anxiety and depression is not a problem with the brain, but with life circumstances. 

All this can only mean one thing: employing psychological and biological remedies like cultural conversation and medication can only take us so far in our pursuits to aid individuals with anxiety and depression. In order for long-lasting health and transformation to take root, we will also need to care for our human needs

The vast majority of individuals experience anxiety and depression in relation to the neglect of their basic human needs—basic human connections, which are necessary for every human being to thrive. If these connections are lost, becoming disconnections, anxiety and depression are bound to follow.

What are those basic human connections?

According to Johan Hari's recent book, Lost Connections, there are at least seven fundamental human connections which, when lost, often result in anxiety and depression. But lost connections can also be found: if we, individually and within our communities, take care of these things which are so often neglected/overlooked within our cultural moment, we can move towards increased life and health. Awareness of and attention to these seven lost connections can pave the way for discussion (and re-connection) that leads to action—not simply today, but every day.

Meaningful work

Disconnection from meaningful work means disconnection from our human purpose.

A few years ago (2011–2012), the polling company Gallup conducted a detailed study of how people across the world feel about their work. In their study, they surveyed millions of workers across 142 countries, and their results were staggering: 

  • 13% were actively engaged in their work (committed to contribute in a positive manner).
  • 63% were engaged in their work (putting in the time, without passion or energy).
  • 24% were actively disengaged from their work (busy acting out their unhappiness).

87% of the individuals surveyed are disconnected from meaningful work. 

When we are disconnected from meaningful work, we are left with one resort: to shut down and just get through. The longer we spend doing this, the more we move towards ‘derealization’ —the feeling that nothing we are doing is authentic, real, or meaningful. 

The imbalance between efforts and experience of reward signals to us that our contributions to the world around us are irrelevant. When we do work that feels inauthentic, fake, and meaningless, we soon begin to experience despair.

The reality: As humans, we were actually created for meaningful work (Genesis 2:15)—contributing to turning the raw-materials of the world into the Garden of Eden. When we are disconnected from meaningful work, we become disconnected from our human purpose, God’s creational intention for us as humanity. 

In order for long-lasting health and transformation to take root, we will also need to care for our human needs.

Community

Culturally, we have come to accept a statement which is refuted and denied by all scientific, psychological, and sociological research: “We are better on our own.”

In spite of the fact that we are bombarded with the banal-platitude be you, the reality is that we were created to be us, to be we, to be a people. Every human being is in search of a community with whom they can collectively pursue what they deem to be ‘the most important things.’ 

And this is the most fundamental mark of any community—below the surface, this is what all communities, for all times in human history, share in common—a collective agreement upon a set of ideals/principles (a way of being in the world), which they intend to live out.

The absence of community will cultivate loneliness—not simply the physical absence of other people, but the sense that we are not sharing/pursuing anything with others. 

And loneliness has been linked to higher levels of stress and increased probability of illness and death (including cancer, heart, disease, and respiratory problems). In the majority of cases, loneliness preceded depressive symptoms

The reality: The pathway toward happiness comes from vulnerability and openness—to cultivate our common identity, and begin to realize that there is no such thing as a singular human being, but that we were built for community, created for connection; created not for independence, but for inter-dependence…


Meaningful values

The majority of individuals seem to have two problems in relation to values: (1) they have never defined a list of their personal values, or (2) they have no ability to uphold their personal values.

Clear values can determine the direction of our lives—the rudder to steer the ship of our day-to-day existence in the midst of trials, turbulence, and transformation. The opposite is also true: lack of values (clarity/ability to maintain values) will leave us rudderless, attempting to steer the ship of our day-to-day existence, but we will instead be like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the winds of human philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, and the elemental spirits of the universe (James 1:6; Colossians 2:8). 

We live within a cultural moment plagued by the disconnection between our values and actions—we are culturally driven by autonomy, individualism, and consumerism, but we claim to value self-sacrifice, community, and simplicity. 

The pathway toward happiness comes from vulnerability and openness—to cultivate our common identity, and begin to realize that there is no such thing as a singular human being, but that we were built for community, created for connection; created not for independence, but for inter-dependence

When we override our deepest internal values, allowing ourselves to be driven by the values mandated by broader cultural narratives, we will inevitably become sick because we are constantly subverting our deepest longings for fleeting momentary pleasures. These pleasures over-promise and under-deliver, while maintaining meaningful values will lead to decreased rates of anxiety and depression. 

The reality: The cultivation and maintenance of meaningful values allows us to remain on course as we navigate the turbulent cultural tides of uninhibited-freedom, consumerism, and individualism.

Dealing with our past

Our relationship with our past plays an instrumental role in our mental health in the present.

Quite simply, anxiety and depression can, and often will, become the human body’s normal response to abnormal life experiences (particularly trauma in childhood/adolescence). Anxiety and depression become the necessary intermediate mechanism for our body to attempt to deal with trauma.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) (originally conducted upon 17,000 individuals seeking medical care) unearthed these realities with disturbing results. The study requested information in relation to ten categories which would relate directly to childhood trauma (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; physical or emotional neglect; exposure to domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental illness; parental separation; incarcerated household member), accompanied by a detailed medical questionnaire. 

The study revealed that every category of traumatic experience radically increased the probability of anxiety and depression in adulthood. Shockingly, 87% of the individuals who were seeking care had experienced at least one of the ten categories. Six categories of traumatic events in childhood meant the individual was five times more likely to experience anxiety or depression in adulthood, while seven categories meant the individual was 3,000% more likely to attempt suicide as an adult. 

The reality: In spite of the deep challenge, our future health is dependent upon the slow journey of dealing with/working-through our past. Dealing with our past requires re-connecting with it through solitude, reflection, journaling, forgiveness, conversation, etc.—this process often requires the aid and expertise of mental health professionals.

Status (respect)

Social disparities frequently become health disparities.

Similar to other challenging life circumstances, research indicates that individuals with low status within their communities, peer groups, or workplaces suffer more from chronic anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease. Status is most often defined by three key components: (1) admiration; (2) voluntary submission by others; and most importantly (3) social value—status must be distinguished from related constructs of power and financial success.

Individuals falling lower within their status hierarchies will inevitably feel less respected and valued, and more ignored and inconsequential in relation to the broader community/culture. Increased status-inequalities (social, economic, political) within our societies inevitably lead to the increased prevalence of issues related to mental health. 

In his letter, James writes in reference to these very issues—we must be wary of social disparities (partiality//favouritism), because in their very nature, they break the kingdom law to love our neighbours as ourselves (James 2:1-13). 

The reality:  We must seek practical ways to reach out to the weak and lift them up, to dismantle social hierarchies, and create a society built upon equality, where everyone experiences social value.

The natural world

Disconnection from the natural world results in a disconnect from reality—disconnection from being grounded within the reality that the world is far more expansive, beautiful, and complex than we often envision or imagine. 

There is a biological theory coined by E.O. Wilson in 1884 called ‘biophilia’ (the love for living systems). In his book, Biophilia Hypothesis, Wilson argues that all humans possess a built-in-love for landscapes and the natural web of life which has surrounded us and made our existence possible. 

Wilson further suggests that all humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. We all have “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”

Biologically, we are built to remain in connection with the natural world, but there is a sociological issue inhibiting our deepest biological needs. We have moved away from the natural world, and we have moved into cities.

We live in a cultural moment driven by increased population within cities, while our disconnectedness from the natural world results in increased rates of anxiety and depression to the point that new forms of therapy (eco-therapy) continue to emerge in the attempt to reconnect individuals to the natural. 

The University of Essex in Britain has conducted some of the most extensive research into the effects of being removed from the natural world. They tracked the mental health of over five thousand households for a period of three years. They examined two types of households: (1) those who moved from a natural rural area to a city, and (2) from the city to a natural rural area—and evidence was quite clear. Those who moved to natural rural areas experienced a reduction in anxiety and depression, while those who moved to cities experienced an increase in anxiety and depression.

Another study had people who lived in cities take walks in nature, and then tested their mood and concentration. All the participants felt better, and reported greater concentration—but the study had a more profound impact on the subjects with anxiety and depression. Their improvement was five times greater than the improvement of others. 

The reality: There are many reasons we as humans require connection to the natural world—biological, psychological, and sociological—perhaps none more valuable than the feeling of facing a natural landscape and realizing that our concerns are minuscule and the world is so large.

Dealing with our past requires re-connecting with it through solitude, reflection, journaling, forgiveness, conversation, etc.—this process often requires the aid and expertise of mental health professionals.

Hope for the future

As humans we thrive upon security/rest in the present, and hope for the future.

Often, individuals experiencing anxiety and depression are plagued by the numbness of their present and lose any hope for the future.

The results are cyclical: individuals who cannot picture a hopeful future become more anxious and depressed in the present; and the more anxious and depressed they become in the present, the less hope they have for the future. 

When security, rest, and hope are lost, anxiety and depression follow. 

One of the key ways we can break these cycles is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is one of the most effective forms of therapy, and it aims to challenge negative patterns and replace errors in thinking, known as cognitive distortions— “overgeneralizing, magnifying negatives, minimizing positives, and catastrophizing” —with more “realistic and effective thoughts, thus decreasing emotional distress and self-defeating behaviour." (Hassett and Gervitz, 2009, p. 393)

The reality: In the midst of anxiety and depression, we cannot always change the way we feel. But we can influence the way we feel by changing our thought and behaviour patterns. CBT functions most effectively when we list the key barriers/thought processes that fuel the cycle of hopelessness and begin the process of self-talk by interrogating the validity, reality, and possibility of the listed barriers to demolish cognitive distortions. 

Read more about the lies people with mental illness or injury can believe and how to dismantle these cognitive distortions from guest blogger and registered psychologist, Sari Faith.

Transformation, healing, and growth are all walked upon the slow, narrow path, which takes time and perseverance. But working towards the healing of these seven connections will lead to decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and more abundant life.

Continuing the conversation

What do we need to add to the ‘Bell let’s talk’ conversation? 

Connections.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix, no simple solution to remedy a culture plagued by anxiety and depression. Going against our culture of 'right now' and 'quick fix' to repair lost connections will seem like impossibly hard work—because it is. 

Transformation, healing, and growth are all walked upon the slow, narrow path, which takes time and perseverance. But from my own experience, working towards the healing of these seven connections will lead to decreased levels of anxiety and depression, and more abundant life. 

I suppose in the end, the question is simple: can we continue to cultivate environments fuelled by conversation, awareness, and advocacy while also beginning to care for our own human connections and the connections of others?

 

 

Cody Matchett

Cody Matchett serves the Church in the areas of teaching, spiritual formation, and discipleship. He is the former College Chaplain at Briercrest College, an apprenticing church planter with the Evangelical Covenant Church, and a partner in the Gospel with varying organizations across Canada. He loves books, coffee, music, philosophy, cultures, art, and hiking. He is married to Brianna, and they live in Calgary, Alberta.

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