This week, May 5th – 11th, is Mental Health Week in Canada. The aim of this week is to raise awareness about mental health issues and to encourage people to engage in discussion about issues surrounding mental health. One of the main ideas behind Mental Health Week is to help people become aware of the fact that just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can affect everyone.
Unfortunately, mental health is something that is still often talked about in hushed tones, as if mental health issues are shameful and cannot be spoken about openly. If someone at the office is off work for a week because of pneumonia, people feel free to talk about it openly in sympathetic tones, without casting any blame on that individual. However, if someone takes a week off because of mental health reasons, this is often talked about furtively, if at all, and many people probably wonder if the individual is ‘crazy’, or if perhaps they’re just ‘faking it.’
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health issues. Stigma describes unjustified negative attitudes towards something, usually a marginalized group. Stigma is powerful because it can often lead to discrimination and hate. Here are some stigmatizing myths about mental health issues and the facts that tell the true story of mental illness.
Myth: People with mental health issues choose to think, feel, or act in the ways they do. They can snap out of it at any time.
Fact: Mental illnesses are real illnesses. Many have a strong biological (i.e. genetic, neurochemical, developmental) component. Many are the result of past trauma. They cannot just be ‘snapped out of’ – many people require treatment in order to improve. This myth is harmful because it can lead to blaming people with mental health illnesses for their issues.
Myth: People with mental health issues are violent and unpredictable, and therefore dangerous.
Fact: People with mental health issues are no more violent than the general population. In fact, people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Incidences of violence in which people with mental health issues are the perpetrators are over-reported in the media because they are sensational and catch attention. This myth is harmful because it causes a lot of people to be needlessly fearful of people with mental health issues, which can in turn lead to social isolation.
Myth: People with mental health issues are damaged for life and can never recover. They are a drain on society and can never contribute to the world.
Fact: Recovery is possible. With the right treatment and care, people with mental health issues can have meaningful relationships, find and maintain employment, have families and raise children, and live fulfilling and contributing lives. This myth can lead to people mistreating and thinking poorly of people with mental health issues.
Myth: Mental illnesses happen to other people – not me or my family.
Fact: Mental illness affects everyone. Research shows that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Even if you don’t personally experience a mental health issue, it’s more than likely that a family member, friend, or colleague will experience one. This myth feeds the idea that people with mental health issues are somehow strange and should be pushed to the fringe of society, when in reality experiencing a mental illness is a very normal thing.
By shifting our awareness and attitudes towards mental illness, we can all contribute to a culture of recovery in which people with mental health issues are supported, understood, and encouraged to become contributing members of an inclusive society. We can remember that mental illness can affect each and every one of us – if not us personally, then the people in our lives. Mental Health Week is meant to encourage discussion around these issues and to create a shift in our understanding. We can all do our part to end the harmful stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Participate in Mental Health Week by starting a stigma-fighting conversation today!
Post by Michelle Scott
Arts Program Co-ordinator
EDOYR’s Riverwalk Wellness Centres