“It can be difficult for people to talk about it, because there still is that stigma around mental illness. But I would encourage people to do that, because they’ll be surprised once they do ‘come out’ how many other people have had similar experiences.” – Matt Haig
Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, an initiative that raises awareness and action concerning mental health in Canada. Such initiatives help erase the stigma and burden of silence carried by those with mental illnesses and their loved ones.
While the days of superstitious beliefs regarding mental illnesses are largely over, and practices like isolating the mentally ill no longer occur, the stigma remains. This can unfortunately make it difficult for those afflicted to get the help they need.
What is Mental Illness?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behaviour, or a combination of these… They are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities.”
Mental health is the foundation from which sound communication, learning, self-esteem, relationships, well-being and contribution to community can occur. When that is affected, enormous suffering can ensue. Some mental illnesses include bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and autism spectrum disorder.
Mental illnesses usually don’t appear out of the blue. If several of the following symptoms develop, then it may be helpful to see a health professional: withdrawal, drop in functioning, problems thinking, increased sensitivity, apathy, feeling disconnected, illogical thinking, nervousness, unusual behaviour, sleep and/or appetite changes, and mood changes.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. By the age of 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness. Mental health issues affect all ages, education, income levels, and cultures.
The numbers are staggering, and even those who have not personally experienced mental illness likely have been exposed to it through family members, friends or co-workers. Mental illness is not something that can be swept under the rug, as the cost to society is huge. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental health, the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year, including health-care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life.
Why Having the Conversation is Crucial
Unfortunately, bad work environments can exacerbate mental health conditions through issues like poor work-life balance, workplace conflict and harassment, and high stress levels. Conversely, positive work environments with good management practices where employees feel respected and valued, can be an immense help for those dealing with mental illnesses, and help them to develop self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Fostering an atmosphere of openness and trust can also go a long way towards creating a positive environment. The Bell Let’s Talk initiative recommends five simple things to remember:
- Words matter. Language that belittles or implies that the person is nothing more than their illness should be avoided.
- Educate yourself. Having the right tools and knowing the right words to use can make all the difference.
- Be kind. Even a smile, or a “how are you feeling?”, can do wonders to help.
- Listen and ask.
- Talk about it.
If you see that a coworker or family member is struggling, don’t turn the other way and assume that they’ll be alright. Be brave enough to broach the subject and ask how they are. You never know, as you might help someone in need, or even save a life.
Nezha Boutamine | Staff Writer