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The Globe and Mail

Have your say: How do we create a safe space for people with mental illness to come forward for help?

Michael Landsberg , TSN host

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Two years ago, we watched one of Canada's leading sportscasters – as much a man's man as there could be – stand before 18,000 high-school students at Toronto's Air Canada Centre and say, "I suffer from depression."

The courage it took for TSN's Michael Landsberg to publicly discuss his mental health struggles inspires us. He says at least a dozen men have told him they're still alive because he spoke out, especially during his landmark 2009 interview with hockey great Stéphane Richer, when both men spoke openly about their respective bouts with depression.

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But for many of the more than six million Canadians with a mental illness, the stigma, fear or embarrassment is overwhelming, and they suffer in silence. While Bell Canada's "Let's Talk" campaign received almost 100 million calls, texts and social media hits last week, a study found almost half of Canadians surveyed believed that mental illness is "just an excuse for poor behaviour."

Mental illness is a tragic drain on individuals, families, communities and society – but we can all be part of the solution. So how do we support those who suffer in silence to one day be able to say, as Michael Landsberg did on that Toronto stage, "… and I'm not embarrassed about it at all"?

This week's question: How do we create a safe space for people suffering from mental illness to come forward for help?

The experts:

Dr. Ian Manion, executive director of the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health

"Collectively we must move from a deficit- to a strengths-based view of mental illness. We must appreciate the resilience of the many individuals who suffer mental illness but continue to contribute in meaningful ways to the diversity of our society, and to openly celebrate their contributions."

Dr. M. Lee Freedman, co-founder of the Mindfulness Toronto Professional Community

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"Mindfulness is the clear awareness that comes from intentionally paying attention here and now with an accepting, kind and non-judgmental attitude. Imagine the potential for reducing the stigma of mental illness if our families and schools taught our youth to practise and value mindful awareness and to consider compassionate action as 'cool.' "

Dr. Connie Coniglio, provincial executive director at BC Mental Health and Addiction Services

Identifying the signs of a mental health problem early and getting connected to support is the most important way to prevent problems from becoming worse. If you are concerned about someone, let them know you're worried about them. Learn about the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and offer your support in taking the next steps in seeking help.

Have your say in the comment section.

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