“There’s no health, without mental health”. It’s this singular reason why I’ve been wanting to write a post about mental health (awareness) for a while now. On Feb 12, Bell will have their ‘Let’s Talk’ Campaign, which encourages consumers to talk about mental illness and while I definitely support this initiative, I think mental health awareness should be carried out everyday.
As a society, we treat mental illness like it doesn’t exist or at least we try to pretend like it doesn’t. Before I got into social services, I knew a bit about mental illness, but I didn’t really know about mental health until I started working in the field. And as Maya (Angelou) says, “when you know better, you do better”. I think I was first made aware of mental illness in my second year when I took a course on Gender Inequality. My professor’s thesis was on postpartum depression. After I gave birth to my daughter, my midwife gave me pamphlets on postpartum depression and constantly asked how I was feeling and if I was getting some rest. I initially treated the pamphlets as junk, but one day decided to read them. Being a new mum I can definitely understand how one can slip into such a state. It is no myth or joke.
People who suffer and/or live with mental illness are people just like you and me. They’re not THOSE people. They are regular folk. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, uncles, grandparents, teachers, professors, doctors, engineers, bus drivers, pilots. They’re White, Black, Chinese, Indian, Arab, young, old, rich and poor. In short, REAL PEOPLE. Anyone, and this includes myself, can have a mental illness. And I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this knows at least one person in their life that has or is going to experience a mental illness.
The stigma that surrounds mental illness reminds me of that surrounding HIV/AIDS. Only in recent decades with the coming out of Magic Johnson among others, did AIDS become a cause that everyone started to take seriously. But like someone I heard on the news say, we need to rally around mental health like we have around Cancer. And that starts by looking at individuals as people and not the disease. They are not schizophrenics, just like people with cancer are not cancerans. Both are suffering from the disease, they are not the disease. We roll our eyes at using correct terminology but we have to respect how people want to be addressed. And I’m no expert either, I’m learning, everyday.
Fear, is what also goes hand in hand with stigma. When you hear stories like that of Vincent Li, it paints everyone suffering from mental illness with the same brush and that is unfair. Because, the truth is there are very few cases where people with mental illness are violent. Don’t believe me? Read this: http://www.cmha.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=3-108
This is the thing: Mental illness can happen to anyone one of us because life happens. We all have different ways of dealing with things and we all have different life experiences. Nobody’s perfect and no one makes the right decisions all the time. We have no right to judge people because we have no idea what they’ve been through—abuse, trauma, alcoholism, job loss, loss of a loved one, illness, stress, etc. There is no need or reason to shame people into isolation for events that are often out of their control.
The increasing number of news headlines on the treatment of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system has left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s despicable and inhumane, and we all need to be vocal about it.
The bottom line is ignorance is not bliss. We need to educate ourselves about what’s going on and stop thinking it’s not going to affect us, otherwise we’re just kidding ourselves. Because in reality, we’re all connected, one way or another.
Here’s a great documentary courtesy of TVO and Steve Paikin: