Bell Let’s  Talk Day is January 31, 2018. On that day, Bell will donate towards mental health initiatives in Canada by contributing five cents for every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view and use of its Facebook or Snapchat filter.

It’s no coincidence that talking is part of this mental health initiative. Because talking can help, in more ways than one.

Dr. Suzanne Filion spoke with The Review recently about her involvement as one of between 15 and 20 subject matter specialists affiliated with the Bell Let’s Talk initiative. The local psychologist and speaker told us that last year, there were more than 131 million interactions on Bell Let’s Talk Day.

In 2017, the program set a record by raising $6.5 million for Canadian mental health. Since Bell’s anchor donation of $50-million in 2010, the total raised is more than $86 million.

She believes in the program because it is raising funds for research, access, care, anti-stigma initiatives and to improve workplace health.

Bell Let’s Talk entertains project proposals and as one of the provincial judges for these projects, Dr. Filion will review between 40 and 50 proposals.

The Review’s conversation with Dr. Filion was far-reaching, but a primary focus was the five things that each of us can do, thanks to research developed in partnership with Dr. Heather Stuart, the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair at Queen’s University.

And so, here they are: five things you can do which might help someone seek the help that they need. (You can find these on the Bell Let’s Talk website.)

One: Language matters. The words you use can make all the difference. Words can help but they can also hurt. What would you choose?

Two: Educate yourself. Stigma has been around for a long time and knowing the facts and myths about mental illness can be a great way to help end stigma. Read about facts and myths and become a stigma-buster.

Three: Be kind. Simple kindness can make a world of difference. Whether it be a smile, being a good listener or an invitation for coffee and a chat, these simple acts of kindness can help open up the conversation and let someone know you are there for them.

Expressions like “You’ll get over it” and “Just relax” can minimize how a person is feeling. Instead offer your support and say “I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well.” Ask what you can do to help.

Four: Listen and ask. Mental illness is a very common form of human pain and suffering. Being a good listener and asking how you can help, sometimes just even being there for people you care about, can be the first step in recovery.

Five: Break the silence. Mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. Stories of people who have experienced mental health issues and who are doing well can really challenge stereotypes. Most people with mental health issues can and do recover, just by talking about it.

Filion says every family, including hers, has been touched by mental health issues.

“Sometimes, it helps to think about mental health issues in this way: imagine you have a cold. When you have a cold, you need to take care of it or it could turn into pneumonia. Sometimes, if we have a mental health “cold” we need to get help and take care of it,” Filion said.

There are times when we are born with a biological predisposition to some form of mental illness.

“But we have to remember that in most cases, we can recover and have a good life. The question always is: how do we take care of this?”

We all know what it feels like to feel “down in the dumps”, but this feeling can be more prevalent during the winter months. Filion is an advocate of light therapy, for instance, for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Many people find their overall outlook to be somewhat depressed during the winter months, when they are exposed to less daylight. That is when serotonin levels can dip and the grey days – those where we do not see any sunshine – can feel as if they will go on forever. Spending time exposed to light therapy sources can have a positive impact on one’s mood and outlook.

Twenty to thirty per cent of people are affected by the “winter blues.” This depressed mood can make us want to sleep more and we keep on secreting melatonin, which can make us feel low and “drag our feet”, says Filion.

“We start to perceive things negatively. I really recommend, when you can, to get sufficient light early in the morning. I know that is hard some days because the light just isn’t there, but that is the best time.”

Filion also talked about resilience – and how we operate in the world.

“I think resilience is not a technique; it’s a lifestyle,” she said. Do you feel like your day is going badly? Maybe your serotonin levels are low. Serotonin (a neurotransmitter) is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets, and our central nervous system.

“It’s about how you live,” Filion continued.

“Now we know, for example, that exercise itself is an antidepressant.”

Filion has created her own acronym to keep the four pillars of resilience in mind.

TESE: Think. Eat. Sleep. Exercise.

Looking at our thinking patterns and working to change the ones that are not serving us well, eating foods that are good for us, getting enough sleep and exercise – all of these together can be life-changing, Filion says, not to mention that a good balance will help us to face adversity, and to feel better and happier.

If you’re sad, recognize it, accept it for what it is.

“Be mindful of your state and think: it will pass. Just stop and take care of yourself.”

Filion also touched on social media and how it can affect one’s wellbeing.

“Just because someone says something about you does not make it true,” she emphasized, advising people to stop and think about statements made by others which might be bothering them.

“Ask yourself: where does this statement make this true about me?”

The reality is, she said, that we might be the sweetest person on earth, but that doesn’t mean everyone will like us.

Another key point stressed by Filion is to check in on your thoughts. Sometimes, it is our very own ideas that can disturb us the most.

“We all aim for perfection, but we all make errors. We cannot expect that people will always be the way that we want them to be.” Instead of judging yourself harshly, why not try self-acceptance? Aim for lower frustration in life by looking at things realistically.

Referring to the Albert Ellis cognitive behavior therapy developed in 1955, Filion says there are ways to change one’s thinking. REBT, or Rational Emotive and Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, is based on the idea that it is mostly how we think about events that creates emotional and/or behavioural upset. Part of this kind of therapy focuses on helping people to take a look at ways of thinking that are generating destructive behaviours and unhealthy emotions. That is followed by coming up with actions, or new ways of looking at things.

Sometimes we have drawn conclusions, or have had an idea or behaviour reinforced because of one particular event, or sometimes, there are patterns which have developed in one’s childhood.

“You can do something else . . . sometimes you need to go back and see exactly when it was that you started feeling unloveable, or when it was that you started worrying about rejection. Sometimes, as children, we cannot really figure out a problem, so we adapt somehow, in order to survive. And then: your personality develops around your thoughts. That is what is so exciting in psychotherapy – when you help someone realize that there are new assumptions and new ways of thinking about things,” Filion said enthusiastically.

Setting limits with toxic people is also a big one, according to Filion. Who you spend time with can greatly influence the health of your brain.

People can act nasty for a reason; sometimes there is something going on with that person, and it isn’t always about you.

“It could be a parent, child or friend that you are spending time with and afterwards, you know that you are feeling drained. That is a time to set boundaries and it doesn’t have to be all the way, all at once. Increase your limits, just a little bit at a time if that works better for you. Don’t feel obliged to answer that phone, every time it rings, for example.”

Although she has no shortage of enthusiasm about the potential for human change and happiness, she is spending less time seeing clients one-on-one and is fully engaged in presenting conferences to groups. She has a website which outlines all of the conferences she can present and says that she already has almost two dozen bookings for 2018, with seven keynote speaking engagements from Vancouver all the way to Gander.

Some of the conferences she offers are related to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorter), depression, light therapy, happiness and wellness, grief and loss, aging well and resilience, to name just a few of the topics listed on her website.

Filion also continues to be enthusiastically engaged with the Hawkesbury and District General Hospital as its Director of Strategic Development. She fulfills this role on a half-time basis.

“I have always loved developing programs and I love psychology and teaching, too,” she says.

It seems that all three come together with Bell Let’s Talk, where the focus is partly on growing the program, but has its roots in psychology and in teaching each of us how to better overcome the stigma of mental illness.

Find out more about Bell Let’s Talk.

Visit Dr. Suzanne Filion’s website.


Apply for funds.

The Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund is part of Bell Let’s Talk, Canada’s largest corporate initiative dedicated to mental health.

The 2018 fund will provide grants in the range of $5,000 to $25,000 to projects that improve access to mental health care, supports and services for people in Canada.

Applications will be accepted until March 31, 2018. Find out more on the Bell Let’s Talk website.