Humour is my go-to. Humour has been my best friend in awkward situations (and there have been many), in unfortunate situations, and in times of frustration. Most importantly, humour has helped me
battle live with various forms of depression.
There are many times when humour is acceptable, and even necessary. However, it is my belief that conversations of mental health should be taken a bit more seriously. I am not at all saying that we have to be all doom and gloom. Humour is awesome!
But, mental illness should not be brushed aside.
I have many reasons to be concerned about mental health, mental illness, and mental wellness. For starters, I have committed 7 years (aka all of my adult life) to studying psychology. And get this, I have about 5 years left. The sheer amount of time I have invested in learning about people, their minds, their thoughts and feelings, and their behaviours should be reason enough to stay in the mental health loop. But, on top of that, I have been afflicted by mental health challenges at many turns in the road of life. In addition to my own unrelenting and exhausting dealings with mood disorders, I have watched countless family members and friends struggle with their own afflictions.
Some of my loved ones struggle with their mood, others struggle with fears and worries. Others still can’t stay calm or pay attention. I have friends who can’t keep obsessive thoughts out of their heads. I have friends and family who simply cannot trust their own minds. Some of the people I care about think about harming themselves, others actually do harm themselves, and some have tried to end it all. Fortunately, I have never lost anyone to suicide.
I am wordlessly grateful for this.
So, how can so many people close to me be so heavily influenced by many different mental health challenges? Well, mental illness is much more common than most people realize. It’s frightening, really.
Let’s talk numbers.
In any given year, 20% of Canadians will be directly affected by mental health problems¹. Thats means that 1 in 5 Canadians are living a daily struggle. If you’re like me you’re like, “ya, I don’t get numbers…”
So let me make it real for you. Say you’re on a jam packed subway with 100 of your closest friends. 20 of those people will have a mental disorder².
- 8 will have major depressive disorder (#represent)
- 1 will have bipolar disorder
- 5 will have an anxiety disorder
- 4 will have Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- 1 will have an eating disorder
- 1 will have schizophrenia
Approximately 230,000 people in Ontario alone seriously contemplate suicide each year³. And tragically, an average of 11 Canadians die each day by suicide4.
Here comes the worst part.
The stigma surrounding mental health is enormous. Let’s go back to the busy subway, and your 100 friends.
Of the 20 friends who are struggling with mental illness, 8 won’t tell their employer that they have a mental health disorder5
Of the other 80 on the subway6:
- 34 won’t socialize with those with mental disorders
- 44 won’t marry someone with a mental disorder
- 40 won’t tell a friend that a family member has a mental illness (even though 58 would tell a friend that a family member has cancer)
Here’s my favourite statistic. Get ready, it’s a good one.
37 (mentally healthy) people on that subway (48%!) think that people use the term mental health as an excuse for bad behaviour6.
ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME?!
Almost half of the Canadian population thinks that we wake up in the morning and we’re like
I want to be bad today. Guess I’ll put on my mental illness act!
This is something that we really need to talk about. Mental illness cannot be thought of as a way out. In fact, most people living with mental health challenges feel that there is no way out of their daily struggle.
Every day Canadians (and others around the world!) keep their challenges to themselves, downplay their difficulties, and exhaust themselves by acting tougher than they feel. Why would anyone do this? For fear of being blamed for their afflictions. They didn’t try hard enough, they tried too hard, they weren’t nice enough, they were too nice, they’re too negative.
The list of reasons for blaming someone with a mental disorder goes on forever. And this stigma, along with mental-illness-shaming and a lack of government funding may contribute to the staggering fact that 33% of individuals requiring services do not get them7.
I typically don’t get upset when my depression is misunderstood. I try to take these situations as opportunities for educating those around me. And, I have to say it’s usually very well received. This makes me believe that we can, as a society, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. We just need to be better educated.
In the meantime, I have learned to embrace my difficulties. In fact, I often find myself on the subway thinking:
If I’m one, who are the other sev with major depressive disorder? Is it you, Becky with the good hair?
There are, however, some times when ignorance upsets me. For example:
“But you have nothing to be upset about”
Mental illness does not discriminate. Mental illness affects people of all genders, ages, cultures, socio-economic statuses, and educational levels. Mental illness affects all Canadians at some point in their lives, either directly or indirectly through a family member, friend, or colleague. In other words,
You do not need a “reason” to be affected by mental illness.
Another one that gets me every time is the stigma surrounding medication. I had a friend who was diabetic and needed to take insulin. I simply cannot imagine someone telling him he didn’t need insulin, or asking him if he tried “natural” remedies first, or making him feel bad for needing to take something to allow him to get through his day. Yet, I’m up against these charges daily because I take two different kinds of antidepressants.
[For the record, I have seen a counsellor and a therapist, I have tried cognitive behavioural therapy and emotion focused therapy, I have meditated and done yoga, I have tried getting more sunlight and more exercise, I have tried having a more optimistic look on life. I’ve tried it all – my brain just simply doesn’t make enough of the right stuff]
Mental illness is an individual experience. It is unique to every person experiencing it. Even other players on the Mental Illness Team won’t fully understand what someone else is going though. So it makes perfect sense to not know what to say to someone who has mental health challenges. It makes sense to not know what to do, or how to make them feel better. It’s okay. But, please, educate yourselves if you plan on carrying out a conversation about it. And, try not to be an asshole. If you’re not sure how to not be an asshole check this comic out.
If you think that any (or all) of the above statements are absolutely ludicrous, then don’t say them to someone struggling with mental illness. If you don’t think that these statements are absolutely ludicrous, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re an asshole.
Now I will leave you with an important and deep quote overlaid on an emotional photo.
To read more about mental illness in Canada visit:
Centre for Addictions and Mental health: http://www.camh.ca/
Canadian Mental Health Association: http://www.cmha.ca/
Do it for Daron (D.I.F.D.): http://www.difd.com/
The Royal Ottawa: http://www.theroyal.ca/
1 Smetanin et al (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica.
² Canadian Mental Health Association (2016). Fast Facts about Mental Illness. http://www.cmha.ca/media/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/#.Vy0N6xUrKRs
³ Ialomiteanu et al (2014). CAMH Monitor eReport 2013: Substance use, mental health and well-being among Ontario adults, 1977-2013. CAMH Research Document Series no. 40. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
4 Statistics Canada (2015). Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, 2012. CANSIM 102-0561.
5 Dewa (2014). Worker attitudes towards mental health problems and disclosure. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 5: 175-86
6 Canadian Medical Association (2008). 8th annual National Report Card on Health Care. Retrieved from https://www.cma.ca/multimedia/CMA/Content_Images/Inside_cma/Annual_Meeting/2008/GC_Bulletin/National_Report_Card_EN.pdf
7 Pearson, Janz and Ali (2013). Health at a glance: Mental and substance use disorders in Canada. Statistics Canada Catalogue no.82-624-X.