Stigma is defined as a mark or stain that is a permanent part of a person’s appearance or character and which sets him or her apart from society – what is normal.
Discrimination means doing things that actively deny people opportunities or target them for abuse. Discrimination also means not doing things such as inaction or neglect that causes harm.
People with mental illness and their friends and family often say that the stigma and discrimination they face is worse than the illness itself.
Self-stigma occurs when people with mental illness and their families internalize society’s negative attitudes towards them, leading to self blame and low self esteem.
Aside from being personally painful, stigma is dangerous.
- It prevents people from asking for help in the first place.
- It leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness – when, in fact, people can and do recover from mental illness.
- It impedes investment in necessary mental health services and research as governments and granting bodies ignore this most important area of population health.
I urge you to check out MIAW and learn more about mental illness and mental health. Their goal is "to end the stigma associated with mental illness, and ensure better understanding and access to diagnosis and treatment." Amen to that.
I also highly recommend the website mindyourmind, which is "an award winning site for youth and emerging adults. This is a place where you can get info, resources and the tools to help you manage stress, crises and mental health problems. Share what you live and what you know with your friends." The image above came from the mindyourmind website. They have a collection of downloadable images on the site, plus an album of images on Facebook, which they encourage people to print, distribute, share, use as their own Facebook profile pic, etc. Please also share this website with any youth in your lives who might benefit from access to mental health information, resources and tools.
As some of you are aware, I have two daughters who suffer from depression. My older daughter has also been diagnosed with ADD and BPD. Which means mental health is an issue very close to my heart. We speak glowingly about our Canadian health care system, but I have to tell you, when it comes to mental health, our system fails miserably. The individuals within the system are fantastic, but the funding simply isn't there to support an acceptable level of health care for those with mental illnesses.
In Nova Scotia, the waiting list for youth to receive psychiatric care is about two years...two years!! In our case, just when Sara finally was about to see a psychiatrist at the children's hospital, she had her 19th birthday and we were told, sorry now she has to go through the adult mental services. But did she get a priority placement on the waiting list in light of having already waited in the children's mental health services line-up? No, she did not. We eventually got help through my employer's excellent Employee Assistance Program (EAP), but so many people do not have access to such a program. So how do they receive the care they desperately need? The answer is that they don't. They live with untreated mental illness. And in the case of illnesses such as depression, going untreated far too often has fatal consequences.
Consider the following from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA):
Who is affected?
- Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague.
- 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
- Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
- About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or "manic depression").
- Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
- Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
- Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
- Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
- The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.
And now consider this excerpt from a Quick Facts sheet (2nd ed) from the Mood Disorders Society of Canada:
Not in any way to diminish the importance of medical care for physical health, but...these statistics are shocking, or if they're not shocking to us, they should be. "Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds", and the portion of a $300M federal funding allocation that went to mental health was 1.5%??? There is something seriously wrong with this picture. There are a few steps being taken in the right direction. For example, the Nova Scotia government has named the development and improvement of the NS mental health system as one of its strategic priorities, and is currently working to develop a Mental Health Strategy. But there is a long way to go before the gap between the level of care needed and the level of care funded is closed, or even narrowed to a minimally acceptable level. We need to keep reminding ourselves, our governments, our communities, that mental health is a priority. We need to be vocal and persistent in our demands for adequate mental health services and care. And now...if you'll excuse me, I must go write to my Member of Parliament...