Monday, January 27, 2014


I am not a particular fan of Bell Aliant but this message caught my attention. The campaign begins tomorrow.  We are hearing so much more about the need for better mental health services in our provinces and country, between the soldiers and police that are taking their own lives from some form of PTSD, and the young people incarcerated when their behaviour is so out of control that the prison system gets them and doesn't know how to handle them. Big problems that require big solutions.

 When I was in grade twelve in 1967 we had a field trip to the local psychiatric hospital as part of a program to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Although the intention was a good one the day did not help any of us understand the illnesses any better. It only frightened us more, especially when we entered the room filled with teenagers our age. Not enough preparation for what we saw.  We felt like we were in a bad movie that we couldn't escape from. Fast forward almost fifty years and we are still talking about an anti stigma campaign. 
As an educator I have since had many opportunities to learn about mental illnesses and their effects on people. I understand much more than I did that day we took our field trip but unless we have those workshops and seminars or are living with someone with a mental illness we know very little about the topic. My deepest respect goes out to those people who work in this field although I believe it continues to be a very challenging one. I hope campaigns such as this one will make a huge difference in the lives of those suffering and their families. 

Bell Let’s Talk Day Campaign Fact Sheet
The Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health Initiative
In 2010 Bell announced that it would be contributing $50 million to mental health related initiatives over the next five years. The Bell Mental Health initiative supports an extensive range of programs to enhance mental health in every aspect of Canadian life.
The four pillars of this initiative are:
(1) workplace mental health
(2) research
(3) community care and access 

(4) anti-stigma

Bell Let’s Talk Day Campaign
One of the key pillars of Bell’s Mental Health Initiative is anti-stigma. As part of Bell’s efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness, the Bell Let’s Talk awareness campaign has already begun to engage Canadians in the dialogue around mental health.
Once again, with Olympian Clara Hughes front and centre, the fourth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day campaign will feature a national multi-media campaign that culminates on January 28, 2014. Joining Clara as spokespeople for Bell Let’s Talk Day and to help grow the dialogue on mental health this year are composer and performer Stefie Shock, actor-comedian Michel Mpambara and award-winning journalist Seamus O’Regan.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will contribute $.05 for every text message and long distance call sent by Bell and Bell Aliant customers to mental health related initiatives. In addition to phone and text, people will be encouraged to engage in dialogue about mental health through social media and access information about the Bell Let’s Talk at
Recognizing that simply talking makes a significant impact in breaking down the barriers to mental health, the campaign encourages people to “start the conversation” about mental health and engage in dialogue with friends, family and co-workers. 

I am reading a book called "Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change" by Pema Chodron. My friend Cathy gave it to me for Christmas. Pema is an American Buddhist nun who is a resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Gampo Abbey is the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery for Westerners in North America.

 I was struck by how a practice she calls Tonglen could help us to understand mental illness or any illness or distress experienced by others. "It is considered a core practice for warriors in training, the most effective tool for developing courage and arousing our sense of oneness with others." is the breathing in of that which is unpleasant and unwanted and breathing out--sending out--that which is pleasing, relieving, enjoyable." We breathe in the things we usually try to avoid, such as our sadness and anger, and we send out the things we usually cling to, such as our happiness and good health. 

This is what she calls a counterhabitual practice. It helps us overcome our fear of suffering and tap into the compassion that is inherent in us all. Most of us are afraid of suffering, ours and others. "Practicing tonglen awakens our natural empathy, our innate ability to put ourselves in others' shoes." This is what I believe will move us more quickly to knowing how to help those with mental illnesses. Pema talks about this practice in conjunction with meditation yet it isn't to be practiced on the meditation cushion. It is useful right in the midst of our life, wherever we are as we go about our day. I am paraphrasing, there is more to the actual practice than what I am talking about here. I am going to practice it to see if I can be more compassionate and empathetic to others. I also like the idea that by accepting suffering and pain and sending out goodness and joy that I can be helping even if I am not with the person.  I am not a believer in a higher power in the heavens waiting for me to ask for the help someone needs. But just maybe taking in some of the negative energy for others and sending out some positive energy I can make a difference. 


  1. I love this Mary! I find that my journey these past 50 years, and especially the last year, has made me a much more empathetic person and I love the idea of Namaste - the spirit within me sees the spirit within you. Meditation practise believes that we can send loving energy into the world that benefits others makes a huge difference, so I do that every day. I think that uncertain times are particularly hard on certain people as well, and these are certainly those! I am definitely going to look for this book! What a great blog topic!

  2. Thanks Wendy. I found it interesting that this author lives in the wilds of Cape Breton! Ekkardt Tolle also talks about doing this as a way of staying in the present no matter what is happening to us or around us. Lovely in concept, difficult in practice, but practice I will.

  3. Sending out positive energy reminds me of the times when I want to say to people, "My prayers are with you", but I feel a little false since I am not exactly religious. So I could say, "Sending you positive thoughts."
    And that reminds me of the Eleanor Wachtel interview this past Sunday when Eleanor asked the interviewee, "Do you pray?" The woman answered, "Yes, I pray. I am a mother." She continued by saying that some of her best atheist friends who are mothers, pray. (I cannot even remember the author's name as I only heard bits and pieces of the interview due to telephone interruptions.)