Let’s talk about ending the stigma with mental illness

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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Depression should not be feared

Let's Talk Day helps encourage a healthy conversation about depression and other mental health issues.

Pam Chenhall of Cumberland Mental Health looks over one of the online resources available for dealing with mental health issues. The psychologist said it’s important for people to talk about depression and mental health to help end the stigma that’s associated with it.

AMHERST – Events such as Bell’s Let’s Talk Day are pivotal in overcoming some of the stigmas associated with depression and mental illness, says a psychologist with Cumberland Mental Health.

Along with raising money for mental health, Let’s Talk Day on Tuesday encourages Canadians to come together to talk, text and tweet about mental health to help fight the stigma around mental illness.

“The more we talk about depression and mental health the more it becomes common language for people and it’s not something they’re afraid of,” Pam Chenhall said. “It’s also an opportunity to join with others because when you start to talk other people talk back and share their life experiences.

“When people talk they find they are not so alone and mental illness can make people feel so alone.”

People suffering mental illness feel they are being pulled away from the people they love and from the events they enjoy because they don’t feel they belong.

“When you start to talk to others and share your experiences the more you realize there’s strength in numbers,” Chenhall said. “The more we do that, the more acceptable it is and people get help sooner. They support one another more readily because they’re not afraid anymore.”

Chenhall said the cost of mental health is staggering in terms of impacts on individual health, the family unit and business. Statistics show that 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetimes, while two out of three will suffer in silence out of fear of being rejected or judged.

Chenhall said much of that is because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. She said the Mental Health Commission of Canada is working to change attitudes through its Opening Minds project. It’s working to find out which strategies work best with which sections of the population.

“The more we talk about it the less stigma there is,” she said. “The biggest challenge when you have an illness is social exclusion when we want to have social inclusion.”

One of the biggest issues, she said, continues to be people don’t understand what mental illness is. Because of that they fear it and do everything to avoid people with mental health issues.

“It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s treatable and supportable,” she said. “Everyone can function in society in their own way with a mental illness.”

If anything comes out of Let’s Talk, Chenhall hopes those who are suffering in silence will take the risk and share their situation with someone they love. That, she said, is the first and most important step on the road to recovery.

“Even if you start small and say ‘I’m having a hard time’ people will support you. It doesn’t have to be a professional you turn to. It could a friend, a neighbor or a priest. The story opens from there and sometimes that can make the difference from a short-term adjustment to a long-term illness,” Chenhall said.

Chenhall said there are many services for those experiencing mental illness. Along with Cumberland Mental Health, she said, many employers have employee assistance programs and health plans cover private practitioners, while family doctors are also a good start.

“It’s always important to make sure it’s not something physical. It’s easy to say there’s something wrong mentally when it could be physical,” she said.

Chenhall said there’s lots of help online through organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Mood Disorder Society of Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Medical Association.

She recommends a couple of websites out of British Columbia including Anxiety B.C. or Here to Help B.C.

Both sites have a good selection of self-help manuals on anxiety and depression.

“There are lots of avenues people can take to learn more and by learning more we then know when we need help beyond ourselves or our friends,” she said.

darrell.cole@tc.tc

Organizations: Mental Health Commission of Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association, Mood Disorder Society of Canada Canadian Medical Association

Geographic location: British Columbia

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