For the past 66 years, Canadians have come together in support of Mental Health Week and raising awareness on the importance of discussing mental illness. As many as 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives, though as many as two thirds of those individuals will find it difficult to reach out for help, with stigma and negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness being two of the biggest reasons preventing them from getting the support they need.
Having to deal with stigmatization is an unfortunate reality for many people suffering from mental illness. Among some of the most common myths relating to mental health are that those with mental illness are “crazy,” dangerous, that they are violent, that they need to be locked away, that they may be lacking in intelligence, that they are lazy or weak, or that it is an illness they can simply snap out of. These are all-too-common stereotypes associated with mental illness, and they are perilously inaccurate. While the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of someone with a mental illness can certainly have a negative effect on their day-to-day lives, including the activities they partake in and how they might behave and interact toward others, it is important to understand that these changes are affected by the illness itself and are not necessary indicators that they are violent or ought to be locked away. Furthermore, mental illness is not something that means an individual is lazy or weak, or that it is something they can “snap out of” whenever they feel like it. Mental illness develops as a result of changes in the brain’s chemistry or the function of the brain, and the only way to get the brain back to functioning at a normal, healthy level is with treatment – which can include a number of different methods. Intelligence also has nothing to do with mental illness, as it can impact even the most brilliant, creative, productive and smartest of minds. Mental illness does not discriminate who it affects.
Mental illness can often go overlooked by those close to someone who may be struggling, such as friends or family members, so it’s also important to be aware of the signs. One of the most common indicators that someone might be struggling with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, is withdrawal. For example, they may lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed, or isolate themselves (i.e. avoid family functions, stop hanging out with friends, stay hidden in their room, avoid phone calls, etc.) Another sign that something may be wrong is if they have become more emotional than they used to be. For example, frequent crying episodes or unusual outbursts of anger. It is not uncommon for someone living with severe depression to also have suicidal ideations, and some may even make attempts. If someone you know is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is not only important to reach out to them to let them know they have support, but also find them resources so that they know there is additional support out there, and also be sure to encourage them to seek the help of a physician – whether it be their family doctor or by an emergency room physician.
Along with changes in mood and behaviour, other common signs and symptoms associated with mental illness include changes in sleeping and eating habits, confused thoughts, ailments (such as general body aches and pains or nausea), as well as abuse of substances like illicit drugs and excess consumption of alcohol. Parents with younger children suffering from mental illness may also see a decrease in grades, frequent temper tantrums and disobedience, as well as persisting nightmares.
Because there are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, getting an accurate diagnosis usually requires a thorough examination from a physician, such as a family doctor or psychiatrist. Once a diagnosis is given, they will then be able to come up with a treatment plan that is best suited to you and your needs, and would likely consist of both medication and outpatient therapy, such as counselling and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy.)
For more information about Mental Health Week and to find a wide range of resources that are available in your area, visit your local CMHA chapter.