Respect – Don’t reject Mental Health Awareness Week

If a friend told you he had broken his arm, you’d probably be very sympathetic,  probably ask how you could help out until the cast came off.

If a friend told you he had just been diagnosed with cancer, you’d probably be deeply moved,  offer a comforting ear when things were bad, provide hope and  encouragement and lots of support. 

Now, suppose this friend confided that he was suffering from an ongoing mental illness.

Would you still offer to help out? Offer that sympathetic ear? Provide hope, encouragement and lots of support?

According to the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, the answer to all of the above is most likely no. Why? The centuries old stigma still firmly attached to mental disorders. 

When physical disabilities occur, there is rarely blame attached. But if an illness is mental, society appears quick to judge the sufferer.

“Shape up.” “Snap out of it.” “Tough up.” “Face up to it.” “You’re just doing this to yourself.” are society’s common responses to an admission of mental illness. 

Yet the reality is that one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, and this will, in turn, touch their families, friends and communities. (Canadian Psychiatric Association)

The real irony is that hope and treatments do exist.

“The majority of people experiencing a mental illness will get better, and even those with the most severe mental illnesses can benefit from early treatment and recover quality of life,” says Dr. Nizar Ladha, president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. 

Advances have been made in the areas of genetics, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology as well as in understanding the psychological mechanisms that underlie psychiatric disorders and play a role in their occurrence. Light is also being shed on the role that environment and culture play in the development and treatment of psychiatric illness.

Depression is one of the most common, and, in many ways, most treatable of mental disorders. It affects all ages from very small children to senior citizens. 

Depression manifests itself in many different ways. “It is not a simple thing to diagnose, which is all the more reason to keep on top of it, and pay attention to feelings and health,” says Alexandra Kaey of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Among teens, depression is considered a significant contributor to thoughts of suicide, eating disorders, alcohol, drugs and internet abuse and, in some rare cases, to the type of murderous violence which rocked Columbine. 

One in ten adolescents aged 13-19 experiences a depressive episode. Around 20 per cent of teens may undergo a phase of depression. (Know the Teens)

Yet most high schools offer few, if any, intervention workshops or provide any long term education on issues of mental health. 

The need is certainly there. Canada holds the “unhappy distinction of having the worst adolescent suicide rate among the world’s leading industrial powers. Every year, 300 kids between the ages of ten and 19 kill themselves.” (Toronto Star, Feb., 2005)

Mental Health Awareness Week, October 2-8, is attempting to spread a message of hope across Canada.

There is help out there. Treatments and therapy are available. Silence about mental health is costly to families, the work force, the entire nation. 

Mental Health Awareness Week seeks to bring mental health  issues out into the light, particularly among young Canadians. It emphasizes the need to educate parents, teachers, employers, family members, other teens, about the signs of depression, and about intervention and assistance programs which are available.

And the need for more funding for the treatment of all mental disorders continues.

Respect mental illness: don’t reject those who suffer from it. Instead, reject the stigma. 

Mental Health Awareness Week, October 2-8, offers a real chance for people to talk openly and without fear. 

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