The Mindset of Mental Health

by Jill Nagel
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The Mindset of Mental Health - TorontoDo you know someone with a mental health issue? Odds are that you do, and you might not even know it. According to CMHA, 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime and between 10-20% of youth are currently affected by these issues. Incredibly, suicide accounts for 16% of deaths among those 25-44 and a staggering 24% in young people 15-24.These are overwhelming statistics, especially when you consider how misunderstood mental health is to the general population.

When someone breaks their leg, or is diagnosed with cancer, we know how to react. We’re upset. We feel sympathetic. The same is not always true when the diagnosis is mental. Mental health problems still hold a stigma, which creates barriers (self inflicted or otherwise) to receiving the correct medical treatment. Too often, young people suffering from depression are told to “be happy” or “snap out of it” when the reality of their condition is much more complicated.

So, what is mental illness? Mental Illness is defined as “any of various psychiatric conditions, usually characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, or behavioural functioning, and caused by physiological or psychosocial factors.”  These issues in no way reflect the moral or intellectual level or the individuals. Like a physical disease, mental illness is not something we bring on ourselves. Common illnesses include depression, anxiety, bi-polar and mood disorders, addiction, bulimia and anorexia.  Like any illness, mental health problems affect each person differently and can cause mental, emotional, and physical distress. Without proper treatment, the individual’s quality of life suffers. Sadly, only 1 in 5 youth in Canada will receive the treatment they need.

Young Ones, a non-profit organization based out of Toronto, is trying to change that. Formed in 2011, Young Ones has made it their mission to help youth achieve better mental health and provide support for families by breaking down the barriers and destroying the stigmas of mental health issues.  These include financial, educational, logistical and legal barriers that hinder young people’s ability to get help. 71% of family physicians in Ontario admit that access to psychiatrists is fair to poor.

“Wait times can be over a year long and we want to cut that time giving young people someone to talk to in a timely fashion”, said Kristen Bellows.

Throughout the year, Young Ones offers lectures and speaks to classrooms in hopes of educating our generation about the importance of mental health, and how it affects everything from a productive career, to youth homelessness. A study done by Kids Help Phone indicates outreach like this is working.  86% of youth realize that people can lead meaningful and productive lives despite having a mental illness, 90% know that mental illness can be treated, and 94% know that having a mental illness does not reflect the person’s intelligence.  88% understand that you can’t “snap out of” a mental illness and that it requires intervention.

What makes Young Ones stand out against so many other organizations is that all of their staff and volunteers have been personally affected by mental health issues. Their slogan “We care because we’ve been there,” highlights just how open they are about their personal stories. During their presentations, they practice what they preach and are completely candid about their own struggles. The message is simple -Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. We are not alone, and sharing personal stories might just help someone on their own journey to better health. Organizations like Young Ones continue to fight to change the perception of mental health within Canada, but it will take more than outreach to produce change. We must have an open mind if the stigma of mental health is going to disappear. The younger generation is well on their way to understanding. Let’s see if the older generation can do the same.

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