Everyone has a bad day here and there. You know, the kind of day where nothing goes right or you just don't "feel" productive. There's nothing wrong with having a bad day. But when every day starts to be a bad day, that's not such a good thing.

Mental illness is not a matter of a person “straightening up.” Many mental illnesses are treatable medical conditions and a combination of therapy, medication and support can be very effective. Yet, how often have you heard someone discuss mental illness in these ways:

  • They’re not sick, they’re plain crazy
  • Sign of weakness or laziness
  • Lack of intelligence
  • Character flaw
  • Substance abuse is a lack of willpower
  • Violent and dangerous
  • Can’t work if you have a mental health disorder

None of these statements are true.

Yet, because of these types of statements, people keep quiet about their mental illness for fear of the stigma associated with mental illness. So, what is stigma anyway?

  • Prejudice – a negative attitude or belief
  • Discrimination – acting on a prejudice in a negative or hurtful manner
  • Bullying – undermining the worth and self-confidence of another

What does stigma sound like? It goes something like this:

  • Suck it up
  • You’re on your own
  • Shake it off
  • Don’t be lazy
  • Just get some exercise and eat better
  • Deal with it
  • I'm tired of hearing excuses

No wonder stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. In fact, many people living with mental illness say that the stigma they face is often worse than the illness itself. The energy expended in an attempt to “hide” their illness takes away from their ability to “manage” their illness.

Just because many of the symptoms of a mental illness or problem are not visible to the eye does not mean that they don’t exist. That they are not real. They are very real.

Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” campaign is one example of one company’s public attempt to normalize conversations about mental health and to break down the stigma associated with mental illness.

But eliminating stigma starts at the personal level ... with me, and with you. It's our job to change the way we perceive and talk about mental illness. If we wouldn't say "c'mon, just suck it up" to someone with cancer or diabetes, then we shouldn't say it to someone with depression or bipolar disorder or anxiety, either.

It's our job to normalize and change the conversations. Join me and do your part. Be part of the mental health conversation.