Stigma around mental health remains pervasive and powerful

We are facing a mental health crisis. 1 in 5 Canadians struggle with a mental illness and suicide is the number one health related cause of death for young people in Canada. One of the factors that is contributing to the mental health crisis is stigma.

2016 survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that 40% of respondents had “experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it”.

Stigma is pervasive and powerful; it prevents millions of Canadians from accessing mental health care and getting the help they need.

I was one of those people.

My name is Jake and I am a recent graduate of Queen’s University. My personal experience struggling with depression and anxiety turned me into a mental health advocate. I have advocated for mental health through public speaking, writing, and community organizing through my involvement with MindBeaconJack.orgBell Let’s TalkRBC Future Launch and now Eli’s Place. In my spare time I love spending time with friends and family, reading and being active.  

In my 1st year of university, I struggled deeply with my mental health. Moving away from home was challenging and transitioning to a new unfamiliar environment was a big shock. There were a lot of days where I felt sad, lonely, empty and hopeless. There were days where getting out of bed required all of my energy. There were days where I didn’t leave my room. 

Despite my internal struggle, I didn’t tell anyone about what I was going through. I didn’t tell my roommate; I didn’t tell any of my friends and I didn’t tell my siblings.

I kept a happy face even when I didn’t feel like it, to the outside world there is no way that anyone would have known I was struggling. I didn’t show any signs about what I was going through. 

I made it through first year without telling anyone except for my parents. I was scared about how other people would react and I didn’t know how to communicate what I was going through.

Fast forward to 2nd year where my mental health deteriorated significantly. I had panic attacks almost every day, I couldn’t pay attention in class and I experienced massive mood swings. I knew that this wasn’t sustainable so I decided to take the semester off and go home.

Once I got home I focused all of my time on getting better. I started seeing a psychiatrist, took medication, practiced cognitive behavioural therapy, meditated regularly and got into yoga. There was no one thing that made me feel better, it was a result of committing to all of these items on a daily basis. 

I didn’t want to hide my mental illness anymore so I decided to tell my housemates and friends.

Once I started talking to people, I couldn’t stop. Every single person I talked to was supportive, empathetic and kind. It felt so good to finally share what I had been going through so I decided to make my decision public.

Up until this point, I told my friends, family and that was it. I knew that I had the opportunity to have an impact in my community and wanted to do my part to ensure that no one I knew ever felt alone again. 

I wrote an article in my school newspaper, I posted it on social media and I went back to my high school to deliver a talk. I was amazed at all of the people who sent me messages talking about how they had experienced something similar. I didn’t encounter a single person who looked down on me, judged me or wasn’t supportive. I was shocked.

The stigma that I was worried about never surfaced. I never experienced the stigma that I thought I would. I am not exactly sure why this is. It might be because of my privilege as a white male, it might be because there were more conversations about mental health, it might be because of my social circles or likely a combination of all three. 

I thought that people would judge me and look down on me. I was terrified that people wouldn’t understand what I was going through and think I was weak. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a job and employers would ask me why there was a hole in my transcript. 

On Bell Let’s Talk day it’s important that we recognize the impact of stigma and find ways to fight it.

If the topic of mental health or mental illness arises in a conversation you are having, make sure to show your support (because you never know if someone is struggling). Check-in with everyone around you and ask them how they are doing. COVID-19 has had tremendous impacts on our mental health and we all need to be looking out for each other. 

As mental health allies it is important that we all educate ourselves about what we can do to support someone who is struggling:

  1. Say what you see
  2. Show you care
  3. Hear them out
  4. Know your role
  5. Connect to help

 

I have taken the time to memorize each of these steps and solidify them in my brain through practice. I suggest that you do the same, go to BeThere.org for more details on each step. 

We all have a role to play in supporting people who are struggling with their mental health. By taking the time to educate yourself on how to support others and checking in on friends/family who are showing signs you can have a tremendous impact on the lives of people around you. Everyone can be a mental health ally. 

Thank you for reading this, I hope it was helpful and provided you with some value.

Jake

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