Did you know that according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population but that 60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labeled (Mental Health Commission of Canada). Working in the field of mental health and having the privilege of meeting the amazing men, women and children who have in some way been touched by mental illness has opened my eyes to the discrimination that they have all faced. The courage to come forward and ask for help in a country that continues to stigmatize its sufferers is inspiring to any mental health practitioner.
So how is it that in a country like Canada only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them (CMHA) and less than 4% of medical research funding goes to mental illness research (Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health)? I believe that it is a result of stigma.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and behaviours held by society or a group of people. Stigma spreads fear and misinformation and creates and perpetuates stereotypes. When it comes to mental illness, people are met with stigma at schools, in the workplace, hospitals, local communities as well as by their friends and family. According to the Canadian Medical Association, 2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection. Because of stigma, these individuals are not able to access the resources that are necessary for treatment and recovery. They continue to live and suffer in silence.
Here are just a few programs in Canada whose purpose is to reduce mental health stigma:
Opening Minds Initiative
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has created an Opening Minds Initiative, in partnership with 110 organizations, whose aim is to “reduce discrimination by changing negative behaviours and attitudes often associated with mental health problems and mental illness.” Opening Minds has evaluated anti-stigma programs across the country to identify those that are effective and should be continued or replicated. They have targeted four key areas: healthcare providers, youth, the workforce and the media. Opening minds is now in the phase of using their research to promote and launch anti-stigma programs across the country.
Let’s Talk Day
Every January, Bell Canada participates in a Let’s Talk day. This year it was on January 27th. Its purpose is to drive awareness and understanding of mental health by creating a national conversation to help reduce stigma. With the power of social media and with the help of their celebrity ambassadors, Bell Canada hopes to break the silence that surrounds mental health and to provide a voice to those who have been touched by mental illness. It also hopes to raise much needed money for programs.
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Mental Illness Awareness Week is an annual national campaign to increase public education associated with the realities of mental health and illness. In 2015, the week took place October 4th-10th. One of its major initiatives is its Faces of Mental Illness Campaign. Throughout the campaign, individuals are nominated to represent the many faces of mental illness in Canada. Their unique journeys and backgrounds are told through public service announcements that are aired over a variety of media outlets. Its hope is to initiate and increase discussion for the purpose of increasing awareness and decreasing stigma.
It is only when people increase communication and become more educated about the realities of mental health can the veil of stigma be lifted. Only then can those who are living with mental illness feel they don't have to suffer in fear and isolation.
For more information:
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.