Decreasing mental health stigma

‘It’s kind of been a scary reality that mental illness does exist’

Josh Pennell
Published on January 25, 2016

Kieran Hawksley is a member of the MUN Seahawks men’s basketball team. Last year, he lost a friend to suicide. Hawksley took part in a spotlight series of videos for the sixth annual Bell “Let’s Talk Day.”

©Submitted photo

Kieran Hawksley is painfully aware of the repercussions of not talking about mental health.

The MUN Seahawks basketball player lost a teammate last year to suicide.
 “He was the funniest guy on the team, you know. Nobody really expected it,” Hawksley says of his friend, Jacob Ranton.
Ranton was just 20 years old when he was found last December under a train bridge in St. Jacob’s, Ont., near his Waterloo home.
“Since then it’s kind of been a scary reality that mental illness does exist,” says Hawksley.

But the young student and athlete realized the scariest part was the lack of conversation taking place about mental health. He joined an athlete mental-health initiative in September that encourages people to get together for healthy activities such as yoga and also get the conversation about mental-health issues out in the open.
When Bell Aliant partnered with Atlantic University Sport (AUS) this year for the sixth annual Bell “Let’s Talk Day,” which will take place Jan. 27, Hawksley wanted to take part.
On “Let’s Talk Day,” Bell donates five cents to mental-health programs for every text message, wireless and long-distance call made by Bell Aliant and Bell Canada customers. It also donates five cents for every tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, and every Facebook share of the Bell “Let’s Talk Day” image.
Hawksley took part in a spotlight series of videos for the event in which athletes say a few words about the initiative and about mental health.
“It was a cause that was not getting the funding that it needed and the attention that it deserved,” says Dawn Boylan, Bell Aliant’s senior manager of community investments.
Boylan adds that in 2010, when Bell first launched the campaign, mental illness and health was becoming something of an elephant in the room.
“Mental health was still something that there was a tremendous amount of stigma around. It was really a cause that very few organizations - corporate organizations in particular - were putting their weight and support behind.”
Since 2010, Bell has given $73,623,413.80 to support mental-health initiatives across the country.
On a local level in this province, funds from the campaign go to local chapters of organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Eating Disorder Foundation. Starting on Jan. 27, mental-health first aid training will be provided for 69 school administrators in the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.
“This is really the generation that could end the stigma surrounding mental illness,” says Boylan.
“We’re a communications company, so we’re all about talking, so we thought it made a lot of sense for us to use that type of leverage and that type of awareness we have as an organization across the country to be able to really help this campaign.”
Hawksley has seen the difference that speaking about mental health can make. Following the death of his friend, people from other schools and other teams started contacting the Seahawks and talking to them about their own difficult experiences with mental illnesses.
“I’ve learned to just let people know they can talk about it and it’s OK to talk about it, and that’s the main thing,” he says.
“I wish Jacob had somebody to do that (with).”

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