On January 28 Bell's fourth annual "Let's Talk" day raised almost $5.5 million for Canadian mental health programs. The campaign was simply to start the conversation surrounding the stigma of mental health disorders. You maybe thinking that this will never affect you but that is part of the stigma.
Mental health disorders impact every Canadian. Approximately 20% of us will experience a mental illness while the remaining 80% will be affected by the illness in the form of a family member, friend or colleague. It affects people of all ages, educational, income levels and cultures. The negative connotations associated with mental health have left it vastly misunderstood especially in younger individuals. Adolescents are considered to be young and healthy but it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 10-20% experience a mental health issue. Poor mental health is strongly related to other health issues and poor development outcomes including lower educational achievements, substance abuse, violence, and poor reproductive and sexual health. Unfortunately suicide is the most common cause of death in these young individuals.
A 2002 report on Mental illness in Canada defined Mental illnesses as being characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour (or some combination) associated with significant distress and impaired functioning over an extended period of time. The symptoms of mental illness vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of mental illness, the individual, the family and the socio-economic environment.
Despite how prevalent mental health disorders are there is still a strong stigma and shame that surrounds it. The stigma arises in part due to lack of knowledge and empathy but also because of superstition, old belief systems, societal fear and exclusion of those with mental disorders. The stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger and avoidance leads to those affected with a mental disorder to stay quiet about their illness, delaying seeking treatment, not being compliant with their medications or follow-up care.
A 2008 study by the Canadian Medical Association found just how prevalent and shocking the stigma of mental illness in Canada still is. Some of the key findings are:
Be mindful that we all know more than one person with some mental illness who silently struggles each day as an estimated 500,000 Canadians miss work each day due to some form of mental illness (Mental Health Commission of Canada). When stigmas such as the above exist, it makes it very difficult for someone who has a mental illness to be open and honest about their battle or to even seek help. Awareness of the stigma exists and steps are being taken to help break it down. Bell's "Let's Talk" day is one step in the right direction. The next step starts with you opening that conversation and having it all year long. Mental health disorders simply do not disappear that fast without the proper help, love and support of family and friends.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in Okotoks and Calgary.
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