One of my roles as a psychotherapist is to be an advocate for those who experience mental health challenges. A positive way to do this is to help raise awareness about brain health as well as attempt to dispel common negative beliefs about mental illness and the individuals coping with the challenges it can bring.
Sometimes this feels like an uphill battle.
Some Numbers on Mental Health
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health or addiction problem. By the time Canadians reach age 40, 1 in 2 have–or have had–a mental illness. That’s 50%!
Coupled with statistics regarding the stigma of mental illness and we have a major problem. A 2008 survey by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) reveals the following disturbing statistics:
- Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.
- 42% of Canadians were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness.
- 55% of Canadians said they would be unlikely to enter a spousal relationship with someone who has a mental illness.
- 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who suffers from a serious mental illness.
Effects of the Stigma
A big outcome of the stigma about mental health is that individuals, family and friends don’t reach out for the help and support that they need. A person suspecting that they may be suffering for anxiety, depression, burn-out they could choose to suffer in silence rather than seek help. I suspect that the more severe the mental health issue, the less chance there is of disclosure–unless the problem has reached a level where it is impossible to hide.
Having a friend or family member dealing with a brain health challenge is difficult and can negatively affect relationships. Due to the stress of support, caregivers can not only experience compassion fatigue, but anger and guilt (resulting from feelings of anger). Once again, the stigma of mental illness may prevent people from getting needed support.
In some cases, a mental health diagnosis is not provided for fear that the individual would be stigmatized for the rest of their life. This can be a problem as it may prevent people from obtaining necessary social supports and funding that would help to make their lives easier.
A Light in the Darkness
The Mental Wellness Network of Waterloo Region was formed in 2012 under the name “The Waterloo Region Mental Health Work Group.” The group came together after a local Waterloo Region community picture identified healthy eating, physical activity, and mental health as three key areas to focus local policy advocacy work.
After working with the Sustainable Societies Consulting Group and consulting with the local community on how to promote mental health, The Mental Wellness Network of Waterloo Region recently launched this website. The goal of the site is to promote well-being.
The website is organized around three main areas: Mental Health and Wellbeing (including a list of local crisis resources and contact information); Ways to Wellbeing in the areas of connection, exercise, mindfulness, learning and volunteering; and a Resource section for both individuals and professionals.
I heartily recommend this site. Not only is the information useful, but the resources and contact information are local to Waterloo Region. The website looks at mental health as part of holistic wellness–encouraging us to look at ourselves from the perspective of body, mind and spirit.
Decreasing the Stigma Around Mental Health
Hopefully websites such as this one will help to lessen the negative impressions of mental health struggles and the individuals who strive to cope with the impacts on a daily basis.
When speaking with someone who is feeling shame about their decision to seek help for mental illness, I will ask if they would have the same hesitancy if they were dealing with a broken leg or chronic pain. Mental health deserves the same consideration.
Canadians Are Not Alone
This powerful, nine minute TED Talk shows that as Canadians we are not alone in our stigma about mental health.