By Michael Robinson
Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign undermines the depth of mental illness by enabling the perception that it’s something easily managed by the painless act of tweeting.
The bumpy ride known as life, converted into a hashtag, now lives as a trend rather than a disease.
Abandoned like a coin at the bottom of a wishing well that will soon be forgotten, the enthusiasm has dwindled and shuffled out-of-mind.
With each of the total 109,451,718 tweets, texts, calls and Facebook shares the Bell’s Let’s Talk Day 2014 raised over $5.8 million. Canadians typed away on their touch screens to popularize the plight of being mentally ill.
As a result of Bell’s attempt to mainstream mental health discussion, our affluent society became fixated to a romanticized view of mental illness, the likes of which has never been seen before.
We applauded Bell — a company better known for monopolizing Canada’s telecommunications industry — for showing us how money talks as they laid the first stone in acknowledging mental illness.
In less than 24 hours, a serious issue had been turned into something unacceptably ordinary.
And Canadians couldn’t be happier to oblige, as they continue to satisfy an appetite for treatments and cures that reflect the numbers.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canadians are the world’s third highest consumers of antidepressants, popping 86 daily doses for every 1,000 people per day in 2011.
So while public paranoia over self-diagnosed mental illnesses increases, we entertain debates over which Monday in January is the most dreary.
Break up with your girlfriend and remain sad for longer than two weeks? Replace the Ben & Jerry’s with some Pristiq.
Now, it is easier than ever to be diagnosed with a mental illness according to Dr. Allen Frances, former chair of the department of psychiatry at Duke University, in an interview with the National Post.
As the psychiatric spectrum expands with each update to the mental disorder manual, unscientific words like prevention, bullying and short-term counselling are now used to draw conclusions about an individual’s state of mind.
Yet, none of these buzzwords are referenced as viable treatments to serious biochemical brain diseases.
The result? Inattentive teenagers, angry kids and binge eating adults who are considered mentally ill.
The practical categories of the manual are criticized for being too simplistic to address the complexities of the human mind. But that won’t stop your aunt from Googling why you gave up going out with your friends last Saturday and chose to spend the night indoors instead.
So as scientific genetic studies continue to reinforce the view that current approaches to the classification of major psychiatric illness are inadequate, Canadians have been told to step in and ‘rescue’ each other.
Bell only helped to reveal that our society has naturalized the assumption that we no longer know how to safely cope with ourselves.
Treating everyday idiosyncrasies as bona-fide diseases has encouraged the wait outside the psychiatrist’s office to grow, further delaying those with the serious illnesses.
“The best patient for drug companies is someone who is basically healthy. Because they get the best results and they’re the most loyal customers,” said Dr. Frances.
“Meanwhile, we’re shamefully neglecting the people who really need help.”
The bottom line is that Bell’s armchair psychology never taught Canadians the huge differences between a disabling psychiatric condition and a mental health challenge.
At best, the crusade was well-meaning but misguided.
At worst, it was a calculating corporate bit of masquerading that filled Bell’s pockets while creating the false assumption that suddenly everyday behaviour was something to be worried about.
Canadians deserve to be redirected from the liberal traffic lanes of prescription drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy. The medicine they really require is the continuance of informed discussion, rather than a single day of sensational texting.
Algonquin’s Student Support Services offer counselling at no cost and are available to speak with upon check-in at the Student Commons’ third floor welcome centre. If you need to speak with someone, call 613 727 4723 ext. 7200. There is also an Algonquin College, Student Distress Helpline at ext. 7300, as well as Health Services has a Mental Health Nurse, Billie Pryer available at x 6518.