#BellLetsTalk: An Op-Ed on Mental Illnesses

by KATIE HENEGHAN, Asst. Features Editor

One in five U.S. adults struggle with some sort of mental illness (National Alliance of Mental Illness). The average class size at Manhattan College is 23 students. Therefore, in any given classroom, you can look around the room and 20% of the class, about 4 or more students, could be struggling with a mental illness according to these statistics. Serious mental illnesses that impact major life activities affect one in 25 Americans (National Alliance of Mental Illness). Though 4% seems like a small percentage, it’s not; that’s about 9.8 million Americans which is more than the entire population of all of the boroughs of New York City.

Jan. 30, 2019 was #BellLetsTalk Day, an online campaign that raises awareness and encourages conversations about mental illness. The purpose is to raise money for a Canadian telecommunications company, Bell Canada. For every retweet on Twitter or mention of the hashtag, the company donated $.05 to Canadian mental health programs. This extended into a variety of different social media platforms and involved celebrities, sports teams, and millions of social media users. The retweets, hashtags, and posts are continuing to grow.

    The purpose of this initiative is to start a conversation on social media about mental health with the goal of normalizing it and trying to eliminate the stigma surrounding it. For me personally, this day lifted a lot of the isolation that I had felt surrounding mental health. I struggle with a mental illness, and I know you cannot see that from the outside. For me, seeing an overwhelming amount of support, understanding, as well as people coming forward as having a mental illness too, created a strong feeling of normalcy and acceptance. I’ve always known I wasn’t alone in struggling with mental health, but it doesn’t make it any easier to come forward and acknowledge personal struggles.

In high school, I would have categorized myself as normal. In my mind, I was “too normal” to have mental health issues. I played sports, had plenty of friends, got good grades and I was involved in school. I believed that mental illness had a demographic, and I wasn’t sure what that was or what it entailed but I was nearly 100% sure I wasn’t a part of it.

I struggled for years with anxiety and refused to acknowledge that’s what it was. Each time I felt out of the norm I assured myself it was just a bad day, and that I was stressed from school or sports, and that what I was feeling on a regular basis was nothing else to worry about. Then, my anxiety started feeling like depression and I was so anxious it made me want to isolate myself. I wasn’t sure where to turn because I was so sure all along that I was so normal. I hated clichés such as “it’s okay to not be okay,” and I refused to acknowledge that well – it was true.

Coming to terms with it was the hardest part of it all. I finally decided that ignoring how I felt was never going to make me feel any better and this would always be how I had to feel if I decided to continue to live that way. Seeking help is one of the hardest parts because I truly believed I was “too normal” to need help, I thought I was too strong for it, and I wasn’t. I felt like I had accepted defeat by seeking help but it really wasn’t defeat at all, it was the way my brain worked and it took so many of my friends, family, and doctors to get it through my head that it wasn’t a weakness.

The analogy that finally stuck with me was, imagine anxiety or depression or any other mental health issue, as a common physical health issue. So, for example, Asthma affects millions of people every day, as does depression or anxiety. Would you think you’re too good to treat your asthma or that you’re too mentally or physically strong to need an inhaler? These are not issues of weakness or strength, and neither is a mental illness.

  #BellLetsTalk was highly criticized on the internet for “not doing enough” and to limit the conversation about mental health to one day. For me, it didn’t feel like that. Seeing others share their story made me more comfortable with sharing mine. Seeing people I didn’t know care about the topic, share words of support on social media made me feel like I didn’t need to hide something.

Sometimes all it takes is a single day of support and a few words of wisdom to lift some of the stigma associated with mental illness. So, let’s talk. Let’s reach out to a friend when we need someone to talk to. Reach out to Manhattan’s counseling center when you need more than a friend to confide in by making an appointment to speak with a trained professional. Use mental health hotlines, educate yourself on mental illness and be aware that it’s nothing to hide, to joke about, or to judge.

There are a variety of resources available for those who are struggling. Here are some resources, specifically for Manhattan College students.

Confidential Resources

Campus Counseling Center: 718-862-7394; appointments can be made by phone or in the office in Miguel 501

Call 1-888-NYC-WELL or Text “WELL” to 65173 for NYC Well: a confidential 24/7 hotline.

Call 1-800-273-8255 Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call (800) 931-2237 National Eating Disorder Awareness Helpline

Call 1-888-633-3239 National Drug Helpline (For substance abuse)