Mental health awareness: We have a long way to go

Mental health awareness, as a movement, has gained a lot of momentum over the last couple of years. In Canada, it’s had a huge boost in part by Bell contributing monetary donations to mental health research with every text sent on Bell’s “Let’s Talk Day”, and daily talk shows or newspapers making the effort to have a mental health awareness show or issue. But what, really, has World Mental Health Day, which this year falls on Thursday, October 10, accomplished? The fact that it has been around since 1992 will surprise most of us. I am not trying to be pessimistic, but rather to get us to consider that maybe there is still more that can be done in the name of awareness. We celebrate a day once a year and feel good about ourselves when we don’t judge those that go through something that we don’t understand. But for the rest of the year, our attitudes and true thoughts towards those that suffer from depression or bi-polar disorder can – and needs – to change.

As someone who has a couple of close family members affected by mental health illnesses, I suppose I am more sensitive towards people making snarky comments about this issue than most. But even this last week I have noticed from my peers and colleagues a lack of consideration, or awareness, towards people who say they are depressed, ill, or have just been suffering and sad for a long time.

Where we have come a long way over the past few years is in regards to the fact that these disorders are now considered by most people as real, disruptive things that are hard to deal with. But where we fall short is our failure to acknowledge or admit that they are far more prevalent than we realize. It is not just the person on TV that speaks out about it like Clara Hughes or Metta World Peace. It’s not just our “mom’s friend’s sister” that has really had a hard life. It can be your neighbour, your brother, your best friend. It’s not just a “disease” that means we have to act differently around them and respect them in a different light. It’s just a part of life, a combination of many things; some inherited, some learned.

But the most crucial part is that we understand why this is so important. It is not just so that we don’t offend victims of mental illness, but that it becomes more acceptable for people to get help.  Whether we like it or not, there is still a stigma attached to having some form of mental illness. I’ve seen one of my family members refuse to admit their condition for a long time, just because they could not accept that it could happen to them. Because, according to the stigma, it means you have to be really messed up right? You have to have had a really rough life. And so my family member put off getting the help that they needed, that they deserved, because they were “stronger” than that. They thought that admitting their situation would make them weaker, but that is not the case. Mental illness comes in so many different forms and the causes are countless.

Life is crazy and does not follow any patterns. Life can be awesome and life can suck. By changing our attitudes and thoughts to be less judgemental of others and be more aware of the struggles we all face, we can collectively help those struggling with mental illness. And maybe even help you.


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