In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, we’d like to address mental health—a topic very dear to our vision and mission.
Despite the many public initiatives, awareness campaigns, and personal stories meant to debunk myths and celebrate acceptance, stigma and shame associated with mental illness seems to reign supreme. Canadians’ fear and anxiety, rarely justifiable as it is, erects unnecessary and intimidating barriers between those with mental illness and the treatment that could save their lives. Since mental illness affects all of us, it’s more important than ever that we show support and solidarity, today and every day.
Canada’s troubling mental health landscape can be illustrated by disturbing statistics assembled by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
• 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
• Roughly 50% of those dealing with mental health issues never seek medical help.
• Mental illness, treated or untreated, costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually.
• Men are especially at risk, taking their own lives four times as often as women.
• 24% of deaths among youth are a result of suicide.
• A staggering 3.2 million youth in Canada have experienced a depressive episode.
There is a promising statistic, however: the CMHA claims that, when help is sought, 80% of patients will benefit significantly from treatment.
If these statistics are any indication, mental health should concern all Canadians. It’s safe to say this is a national problem, one which both government and individual citizens must work to alleviate.
Immigration and Mental Health
Canada’s Mental Health Commission addresses cultural diversity which, while being a source of enrichment for Canadian culture as a whole, can also result in an inability to pursue professional help. Recent immigrants often endure feelings of displacement and culture shock, making it difficult for them to find appropriate resources and express themselves to health care professionals who may not understand cultural context. Some immigrants’ needs can be adequately met by expanding existing services, but other groups require new services that Canada does not yet have in place. The cultivation of cultural intelligence is vital to ensuring that suitable supports are always available to immigrants who need them.
Of course, not all immigrants are prepared to request medical help. They often grapple with the conflicting expectations of their families, Canadian society, and themselves. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk trumpet the value of openness, but not all cultures view mental illness with such acceptance. Disclosing a mental health condition can subject the patient to ridicule and shame. They may be accused of weakness. For example, Chinese women may not confess to feeling depressed because anything other than a cheerful disposition is regarded as a character flaw. So, some of the burden of improving mental health rests within immigrant communities. Society must welcome those who are able to come forward, showing them the warmth and understanding they may not find elsewhere.
Trauma and Substance Abuse among First Nations Communities
Health Canada’s website devotes a page to listing the specific challenges faced by First Nations people. Citing the trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools and colonial oppression, the article explains that it remains impactful and harmful today. There may be few people alive to describe the horrors they lived through, but trauma is cumulative, and is passed down to children and grandchildren. The accumulation of trauma leads to unstable mental health in Aboriginal communities.
Many First Nations people, particularly youth, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction, already prevalent in Canada, is especially common and widespread in First Nations communities. Substance abuse can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, which only adds to the troubled landscape surrounding Aboriginal people.
Hope can be found in programs that focus on addiction treatment, recovery from trauma, and reconciliation. Due to disproportionately high suicide rates, programs targeting suicide prevention, particularly among youth, are also highly effective.
Mental Health on Campus
In recent years, Canadian postsecondary institutions have had to acknowledge a growing mental health crisis among their students. A mix of increasing academic pressure, unemployment, and the inherent issues faced by all young people—for it has never been easy to be young—conspire to decrease students’ general well-being. Academic life has always been challenging, but the strain students find themselves under seems to have grown exponentially. Some educators believe that this is partially the fault of primary and secondary education, which tends to emphasize self-esteem and an “everyone is a winner” mentality that is incompatible with postsecondary standards. Students may be less resilient, and a bad grade can throw them badly off course. Minor setbacks can have devastating effects.
Compounding the problem is the coping mechanism many students choose: the use of drugs, especially stimulants, leads to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Typically, students prefer to rely on student-led programs to guide them through the process of improving their general mental health. Peer support is an essential part of the postsecondary experience. Policies encouraging mental health awareness can also do a great deal of good.
What We Can Do
Besides advocating for policies that will make affordable, effective care available to all mentally ill Canadians, there is a lot we can do as individuals to assist those who need us most.
• Listen: active, compassionate listening is a valuable skill that can make it easier to facilitate openness and acceptance. An attentive, nonjudgmental ear can make a world of difference.
• Speak up: use your voice to promote mental health awareness, and place pressure on those in power to implement mental health strategies aimed at improving the health of all Canadians.
• Reach out: if you are dealing with mental health challenges, do not do so in isolation. Talk to loved ones, and seek medical help if necessary. Mental illness is as legitimate and serious as physical illness; you cannot afford to ignore it.
DECSA is committed to mental health advocacy, especially when it comes to preserving the right of all Albertans to work. If you or someone you know feels trapped by barriers associated with employment and education, contact us. Our doors are always open.