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2011-02-09

What I'm Thinking about Today - Mental Health

“The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you” 
~Rita Mae Brown

Today, February 9th, is Bell Canada's "Lets Talk" Day - five cents from every long distance call and text message made today will be donated to mental health programs. Their objective, which I commend them for, is to raise awareness of mental health issues, and to help fund Canada-wide research and workplace programs (they have actually pledged $50 million over the next 5 yrs to a fund that will provide donations to large and small mental health organizations across the country).

Mental Health - what can I say - it is the elephant in the room. No one talks about it, yet, at least one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives! For them, depression, anxiety, OCD, personality disorder, or some other mental illness is a debilitating and omnipresent reality.

Several factors can play a role in the onset of a mental illness. These include, but are not limited to: genetic dispositions, family history, a psychological vulnerability, biological factors, hormonal imbalances, life events, social and psychological factors,and environmental toxins! Plus, each episode of a mental illness like depression can increase the likelihood of a relapse - meaning it can be come a vicious circle for many.

Given this prevalence of mental illness, every one of us must have a family member, friend or colleague who will experience it. And yet, there is a stigma about it. This contributes to the guilt and shame a mentally ill person feels – as such, it can take years before they get the courage to confront the way they feel and get a diagnosis. In Canada, fewer that one-third of sufferers get prompt treatment, and one study quoted in a Glamour magazine article even put the average length of time between the onset of anxiety symptoms and an actual diagnosis at twelve years!

It is important to realize a mentally ill person cannot "help it", they cannot "snap out of it". They are not inadequate, they are not a second class citizen. If a friend or family member does confide in you, be supportive, patient and understanding. Do not belittle the person or their state of mind, do not blame them, and do not quiz them up on what caused their state of mind - they may not be able to identify the trigger and your question may increase the guilt and shame they feel.

And what if it is you? Seek help – tell your doctor, get counselling or psychotherapy. Consider medication if there could be a biological, hormonal or genetic cause. Find ways to take care of yourself - indulge in a hobby, exercise or keep a journal. Don’t feel guilty, there is NO reason to be ashamed. Cut yourself some slack.

On a final note, despite being one of the most pervasive illnesses in Canada, mental health is also one of the most chronically under-funded health concerns in the country. We have to get it on the agenda. So, let's follow Bell's example, today and every day. Let's not continue the stigma and shame of mental illness. Let's support one another. Let's talk about it!




Resources: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - www.camh.net;  Globe and Mailletstalk.bell.ca"Real Life" by Phil McGraw; "Anxiety, the new young women's health crisis" by Shaun Dreibach in Glamour magazine, 2010

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