Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. Over the past decade, this event has become a powerful example of capitalism for good by bringing an incredible amount of awareness to the subject of mental health and mental illness.
The message is simple. 1 in 5 Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime.
Earlier today, I reflected on this statistic while commuting. There were about 250 people on my train. So 50 of them will be affected by mental illness. While everyone looked as if they were more or less peacefully off to work, I can imagine that a non trivial number of the those surrounding me were struggling with mental illness at that moment.
The majority of Canadians will not experience mental illness. It is hard if not impossible for them to imagine the depths of the struggle that is the reality of those living with it.
It’s not easy to remember that any person you interact with during the day may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Though I couldn’t see it, I believe there were a handful of individuals experiencing crisis on the train this morning. They may have recently been discharged from hospital and are struggling to find some sort of routine again. They may have successfully managed an illness in their youth, but an unexpected trigger may have bubbled symptoms up for the first time in decades. They could be in the midst of paranoia and are confused why they are even on the train.
But as I looked around, I also felt that I was in the presence of superheroes.
Mental illness affects everyone differently. It affects how people think and the way they perceive and feel the world around them. All too often, these ways of thinking, perception, and feeling can be debilitating and sometimes life ending.
But I know that there are those who are able to thrive, even sometimes as a result of their mental illness. They were privileged to have the support necessary that they were safe when they first experienced a mental health episode. They lived in a country of compassion which offered the resources and time for recovery. They were offered opportunities for personal and professional growth. They accepted those offers and grew beyond their own expectations. They were lucky that they weren’t harmed by the side effects of medication. They are grateful to have been able to contain the worst aspects of the illness affecting them. They know many aren’t so lucky.
There are individuals who are able to capture their unique thinking, perception, and feeling and deploy it by offering meaningful and unique impact within themselves, those around them, and their organizations.
Neurodiversity is one of the components of the larger Diversity & Inclusion conversation. It asks that people equip themselves with the tools to empathize with those experiencing distress. But it also creates an opportunity, especially for organizations, to seek and find unique and creative individuals who may create extraordinary impact through novel and creative thinking and action.
I’m thankful the talk is happening, and I’m excited about how the conversation will continue and evolve.