With Bell’s recent Let’s Talk day, mental health stigma has been on my mind. Mental health difficulties arise when genetic, biological, and environmental factors combine to create psychological stress. These factors are mainly out of one’s control and result in distress that can feel alarming and overwhelming. Managing psychological distress can be in one’s control; however, coping often involves reaching out to available resources which is where people get stuck due to stigma.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20% of Canadians experience mental health difficulties in their lifetime and 49% of people who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety never sought treatment. Staggering stats!
I find it incredibly frustrating that seeking services for mental health difficulties is frequently seen as weakness. If someone has a physical health problem like diabetes or a broken bone, they seek medical attention. In fact, it would be viewed as neglect if one didn’t see a professional for these matters. So why is mental health viewed differently when these difficulties are so prevalent? Think of how brave someone has to be to see a psychologist: an individual sees an essential stranger and bares their inner thoughts and feelings in order to receive assistance. That looks like courage to me!
I believe that part of the problem is based out of a systemic issue. Our healthcare system does not recognize the right of each individual to receive mental health services, and coverage on extended mental health care plans is often extremely limited. This is a shame; the mind and body have a strong connection so people experiencing mental health difficulties often experience comorbid physical health difficulties. Both of these arenas can impact academic, career, and personal functioning which inevitably takes a toll on our healthcare system.
In order to overcome stigma, an essential step toward change is changing your own attitude toward mental health. This grassroots process to change is something that we all personally have control over. It involves empathizing with another versus sitting in judgment of their experience in the world. Even if you have never experienced a chronic mental health difficulty, think of a day when you felt sad or anxious, and alone with these concerns; now imagine someone who struggles in this way regularly. Additionally, if you experience a chronic mental health concern, I encourage you to not criticize yourself. No one asks to experience this type of pain, so adding self-criticism to your existing struggle is not helpful. My hope is that we can all work toward being kinder to others and ourselves and sack stigma for good!