TW: MENTIONS OF SUICIDE, EATING DISORDERS, AND OTHER MENTAL ILLNESSES
May is mental health awareness month, and over a year into a global pandemic, it feels that our mental health awareness is more critical than ever. Many people are aware of mental health problems but rarely do we talk about how much it really affects people and their everyday lives, not to mention how it affects people over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental illness is currently the leading cause of disability in Canada, and it is expected that we will be dealing with a mental health crisis in the coming years. While the pandemic had a significant effect on people’s mental health, it has worsened the mental health of thousands of people who were already suffering prior, with a substantial increase in suicide in line with the economic recession and the rise in unemployment.
The month of May is meant to be a month of discussion about mental illness, ending the stigma surrounding people’s mental health, and raising awareness about mental health issues and how important it is to be educated.
Let’s look at the statistics about Mental Health
Young people ages 15-24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group. The problem with this statistic is that these young people are growing, developing and often-times have a lot of pressure to make decisions that will shape their future. This age group has so much going on, is misunderstood and misrepresented. With very little support and very few options for confronting and dealing with their mental illness, it is easy to turn to alcohol and other substances rather than finding different ways to cope with or treat their condition. CAMH reports that people who deal with mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance abuse problem.
Teens rarely know who to turn to about their mental health. Part of the stigma surrounding mental illness in younger individuals has to do with the idea that teens are too young to understand their emotions and feelings and that they cannot suffer from a mental illness. This can cause these individuals to downplay their feelings and emotions later in life and even avoiding talking to a doctor about the way they feel in adulthood.
Mental illness also disproportionately affects POC, and in Canada, mental illness seriously affects Indigenous people. Inuit and First Nations communities experience much higher rates of suicide than the rest of the Canadian population does. In contrast, suicide rates for Indigenous people, in general, are already twice the national average. Indigenous people also experience depression twice the national average, especially for those who live on Canadian reservations.
While Canadians must have access to mental health services, some Indigenous people have a more holistic approach to mental wellness, according to heretohelp.ca. This serves as a reminder that treatment for mental illness is not linear and not the same for everyone.
“Wellness means being in a state of balance with family, community and the larger environment… European models of treatment that remove the person from their surroundings tend not to work for this group.”–Saman from heretohelp.ca on Indigenous treatment for mental illness.
Is there still a stigma surrounding mental illness?
Sometimes it seems as though we talk about mental health so often that we’ve ended the stigma, but according to CAMH, almost 40% of people in a 2016 survey had not sought medical help for their feelings of depression and anxiety. So many people feel as though they cannot tell their friends or family about their mental health due to the ideas about mental illness. Many people still do not see mental illness as a valid illness, even though it often affects our physical health. According to a 2008 survey, over half of Canadians would not enter a spousal relationship with someone who was dealing with mental health problems.
While the discussions about mental illness are getting better, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, which affects people who suffer from anxiety, depression, BPD, etc., and can even discourage them from speaking about it or seeking help.
What can we do?
Many organizations are dedicated to changing the way we view mental illness, like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the World Federation for Mental Health. These are all great resources to check out to learn more about mental illness, read up on more statistics, and familiarize yourself with ways you can help end the stigma around the topic of mental health.
When trying to be there for someone dealing with mental illness, there are definitely a few things you should stay away from saying. Asking questions about why someone isn’t seeing a therapist or why they aren’t on medication might seem helpful, but everyone has their own reasons for choosing what is right for them. Some people do not benefit from therapy or medication, and some people cannot afford these options either. Telling someone who is dealing with an eating disorder to “just eat,” telling someone dealing with anxiety to “just try meditation,” or a person dealing with depression to “just focus on the happy moments in their life” is not helpful. Saying these things can be hurtful because many people dealing with mental illness wish it was as easy as “just eating” or “just meditating” for them to get better.
A better way to be there for someone dealing with mental illness is simply to let them know you are there for them. You can ask them what they need at that moment if they need advice or someone to listen to if they need to go for a walk etc. Always acknowledge their feelings and remind them that those feelings are valid. It is a lot easier to get through each day when you know you have people behind you supporting you every step of the way.
Mental illness is something so widely experienced that it’s likely you or someone in your life has experienced some form of it, whether they have been treated for it or not. Mental illness does not define who we are as people, nor does it mean something is wrong with us. We have all been through a hell of a year, and many of us have lost hope in everyday life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are communities of people going through similar experiences around the world. We are not alone in our fight against mental illness!
This link has mental health resources for everyone; check it out:
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or you can text the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.
If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.