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By Dr. Nina Fusco, Chief Psychologist, Calian

To demonstrate what Bell Let’s Talk Day means to me, I’ll start by sharing a pattern that I see all too often through my work and in my life in general: when people apologize for crying. Of course, crying is normal, and we all feel this way sometimes. There is no reason for us to feel ashamed to cry. So, why are we sorry?

It reflects a too-common general sentiment that we “aren’t allowed to” or “shouldn’t” feel our emotions. Perhaps because we feel that our emotions are inconveniencing others, or that they are somehow a sign of weakness, or something to be ashamed of.

Whatever the reason, these sentiments help reinforce stigma that surrounds mental illness. A stigma that might prevent us from having the conversations we should, or seeking the help we need—because we feel that it is not okay, or it is not socially acceptable to be vulnerable. Instead, we might internalize these feelings, letting them grow over time. It’s a cycle that perpetuates on itself, proving just how harmful this stigma can be.

Bell Let’s Talk Day has an important message to share about awareness, acceptance, and action surrounding mental health. But I want to emphasize the importance of living this message every day of the year, not just for a single day. We need to focus on giving ourselves, and those around us, permission to feel. We need to understand, through our thoughts and actions, that it is okay to express and reflect on how we are really doing. Through granting these permissions to ourselves and others, we begin to break down these stigmas, leading to actionable changes.

Let me use an everyday example. One of the most common things we ask each other is “How are you doing?”. But how often do we actually stop and listen to the answer? Or how often do we thoughtfully answer this question ourselves? By letting people into how we are really doing, we are granting that permission to be open—for ourselves, for our friends, our family, our co-workers, and more. We are setting the standard that it is okay to be honest about what we are feeling. I challenge everyone to be conscious of how we approach this question—let’s treat “How are you doing?” as more than just an off-hand remark.

So, let’s talk today, but more importantly, let’s keep talking, every day. Let’s leave space and give opportunities for others in our lives to feel, express and talk. When we ask each other how we’re doing, let’s really listen. Let’s take time to figure out what we need—whether it’s asking for help, taking a vacation, or simply taking a 15-minute break. Let’s give ourselves permission to feel. Through these choices, we can help to break the stigma in our own lives and for those around us.

About the Author: Dr. Nina Fusco is Chief Psychologist at Calian. On January 23, she delivered a speech at the Police Leadership conference hosted by the BC Association of Chiefs of Police in partnership with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police regarding stoicism and stigma in the law enforcement industry, titled “The human factor: fostering mental health for police officers”.