Healthy Living in the North

Mental illness: let’s talk about it

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What stops you from having a conversation with someone about mental illness?

What do you know about mental illness? The number of people in Canadian society who are living with a mental health concern are astounding. Research tells us that:

  • one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life.
  • two in three Canadians will suffer in silence.
  • only one out of five children who require services will obtain them.

When we see mental illness in the media, we see violence, theft, drug use, and family breakdown. When we see mental illness in our office, we see parents, grandparents, employees, children, siblings, best friends, teachers, health providers, fiancés, bankers, and people from all walks of life. We see people who lend helping hands, neighbours who rush to help you unload groceries, and the nice lady who held the door open for you in the pouring rain. All of these people confront stigma on a daily basis, and often suffer in silence from fear of being ostracized, forgotten, or feared by others.

Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness, according to Canadian Medical Association. Would you?

Mental Illness Awareness Week is the first full week of October. This is a national campaign that plays a vital role in breaking down stigma, opening Canadian eyes to the reality of mental illness, and bringing mental health information, concerns, and solutions into the community. The week is an opportunity for everyone to learn more. Mental illness affects people and their families in numerous ways. It is a complex and often hidden diagnosis that touches every aspect of someone’s life. Many with concerns are ashamed and do not know where to find help or how to access services. We encourage everyone to join the conversation, help promote understanding, and create a healthier and accepting society.

Mental health is a part of life; everyone has a state of mental health. Being diagnosed with a mental illness is no different than being diagnosed with a physical illness, except that diagnosis might be portrayed on the evening news for a violent crime instead of a research breakthrough.

A wide-variety of companies have acknowledged the prevalence of mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. Bell Canada is a leading supporter with their “Let’s Talk” campaign. Universities, colleges, and hospitals throughout Canada provide support and fundraising. Numerous organizations have developed with the sole purpose of breaking down stigma, supporting those diagnosed and their families, and conducting research.

Northern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Services (MHAS) offers a variety of programming, such as individual counselling, day treatment, education and outreach, psycho-educational groups, life skills support, medication treatment, and crisis response. Visit our website for more information, or call your local MHAS office.Visit the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health or the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information on mental illness.

Across the north, there will be various events to raise awareness of mental health, wellness, and illness in communities across northern B.C. In 2015, one of these events is a gathering at Totem Mall in Fort St. John on October 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.. I hope to see you there!

Are you aware of stigma associated with mental illness? What are your plans during mental illness awareness week? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Stefanie Conn

About Stefanie Conn

Steff is a youth case manager with mental health and addictions services. Originally from Ontario, Steff moved to Fort St. John in 2013 for a change of scenery and career options. Through all seasons, Steff is active in the community – she curls, bowls, plays baseball, and rides horses regularly. Steff loves to go on adventures, whether in the local community or while on vacation. One of her favourite things to do is scuba dive and swim in large bodies of water. Cooking is another passion of hers, and she’s always up for new recipes! (Stefanie no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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