Published on Toronto.com
By Sevaun Palvetzian
Mental health is health.
It’s a simple, no nonsense refrain, but it’s one that’s taken awhile to gain wider acceptance. Stigma is still so pervasive when it comes to mental illness. According to Bell Let’s Talk, two-thirds of people living with mental illness are too afraid to seek the help they need.
Despite these lingering negative attitudes, when you look back at our mental health history, progress has certainly been made.
Toronto’s ties to mental health treatment were made over 150 years when the Provincial Lunatic Asylum was built in 1851, the forerunner to today’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Queen Street site. Just the name of that former hospital tells you everything you need to know about how society viewed mental illness. It’s said that even as late as the 1950s, people used to hold their breath on the 501 Queen streetcar any time they passed the facility, afraid they might catch whatever illness patients were living with.
Yet programs and organizations advocating for better mental health supports have a long history too. In 1918, the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene was created, later becoming the Canadian Mental Health Association.
But it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Canada saw concrete action by government and the beginning of better public understanding. Over a 50-year span, mental health treatment would cast off the shackles of institutionalization and move to a more community-based approach for support. Between 1965 and 1980, 50,000 beds were closed in residential psychiatric facilities across Canada.
Fast forward to today, and we’re seeing employers emerge as new leaders. And for good measure — it’s estimated 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to mental illness.
Bell Canada has been a key leader in this charge. Since launching Bell Let’s Talk in 2010, Bell has donated over $90 million to Canadian mental health initiatives through their annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, which is on Jan. 30 in 2019. The campaign has not only made mental health top of mind for Canadians, it’s also brought personal stories of both prominent figures and everyday people to the fore. Bell has shown the vital role businesses can and should play in supporting mental health — something to be commended.