Hidden in plain sight

How can you help lessen the stigma of mental illness? Experts say there are at least five things you can do.

About a decade ago my doctor suggested I have a sleep test. My older brother and father had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and because of my somewhat irregular sleep patterns she recommended an overnight lab test. Weeks later, as I sat in the sleep clinic in front of a poster itemizing the 20 common symptoms of sleep apnea, I was intrigued by the first symptom, which was written in capitals in a dark, bold font: DEPRESSION.

“Did I have depression?” I asked myself. I had noticed that I went into a funk every now and then, especially around Christmas and again during the early summer. But then, a lot of people feel down from time to time — is that depression? Isn’t that just mood swings or what our grandparents would call the blues?

After I was diagnosed with and treated for sleep apnea, I realized that I was probably experiencing bouts of depression and a lack of vitality due to my sleep apnea. At the time of writing this article Bell Canada had just completed its annual Let’s Talk day, a multiyear initiative dedicated to reducing the stigma about mental health issues such as depression. This year alone more than 125 million texts, tweets, Facebook references and shares about mental illness were generated.

So what do depression and other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance addictions have to do with today’s CPA?

They all impact the bottom line. There are significant costs associated with not properly addressing mental health in the workplace. These include loss of productivity, increased absenteeism, lack of engagement, and what some call “psychic absenteeism,” in which a person is physically present but psychically not there. Furthermore, the Mental Health Commission of Canada states that mental health is the fastest-growing disability claim in Canada’s workplace, with more than 21% of the working population currently experiencing mental health problems.

I started to participate in the Let’s Talk campaign two years ago. I emailed my personal experience with depression to my entire contact list. Within a few weeks I got a thank-you email from a mother who had been trying to help her son come out of a long-standing depression that she thought was related to sleep apnea. After he read my story, he decided to have a sleep test. A year later, I learned that his depression had been significantly reduced — in direct proportion to the improvement in his sleep.

Information on the link between addiction and anxiety:

So what can you do to help lessen the stigma of mental illness?

According to the experts there are at least five things you can do.

Pay attention to your language.
Have you ever referred to someone as “crazy” or “nuts”? Have you ever said anything when you heard this language? Have you ever wondered why a person may be acting out of character?

Educate yourself by understanding the most common warning signals and separate fact from myth.
Missing the early warning signs is common. The Bell Canada Let’s Talk website (letstalk.bell.ca) and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health website (camh.ca) are excellent resources to start learning what the most common signs are.

Be kind. Treat people the way you would treat them if they had cancer or even a bad case of the flu. Don’t stand by when someone is being labelled or ridiculed. Take a stand and stop it when you hear it.

Listen and ask questions.
Trivializing mental health conditions by asking, “What’s wrong with you?” will create a different reaction from simply asking, “How can I help?” Similarly, telling a person battling mental health issues to snap out of it is like telling a person walking with a broken leg to stop being lazy. Instead, treat it as a learning opportunity.

Talk about it.
Breaking the silence will reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.

Pass it on. Join the movement to become aware.