Did you know that next week, October 5 – 11, 2014, is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada? Isn’t it just a bit exhausting to have yet another week that focuses on one illness or another? And haven’t we heard enough about mental illness lately? Just look at all the media coverage it gets: every other day we read about violent attacks perpetrated by people who are mentally ill or see the images of yet another celebrity who has died due to addiction or suicide. It is mostly hype, isn’t it, making a big deal out of something that isn’t much of a problem, especially in Canada? Really, aren’t we ‘aware’ enough already?
Before you answer these questions, let me tell you about some of the things we do know about mental illness in Canada:
- 42% of Canadians are unsure if they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness1
- 55% of Canadians say they would be unlikely to enter into a spousal relationship with someone who has a mental illness1
- 46% of Canadians think people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior1
- 40% of parents say they would not admit to anyone, not even their doctor, that they had a child with a mental illness2
- More than 40% of Canadian news stories about mental health focus on murder and violent crimes2
- People living with mental illness are 2.5 – 4 times more likely to be the victims of violence than any other group4
- Nearly 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year – an average of 11 suicides each day3
These are pretty grim statistics and I present them with both a heavy heart and an angry spirit. I know that many people who read our blogs are already painfully aware of these numbers – you live them, recognize them in the reactions of people you know, understand them through the experiences of your family members. In many ways they seem too overwhelming to impact: where do we even start to make a positive difference? I am daunted by the present state too, but I truly believe that the way we can reduce the stigma, the myths, and the judgments is through our actions. I choose to tell my story – I have found people often shed their negative assumptions after listening to a real person speak about their journey. I also am convinced that everyone can play a part, be it big or small, in making things better. For example, when you hear someone make an inaccurate statement about mental illness, politely provide them with the true information. When you read an article that adds to the stigma, write to the editor and express your concerns. If you are unsure about the facts, use reliable sources to educate yourself. And most importantly, if you encounter someone who is struggling with mental illness, connect with compassion and kindness.
My request to anyone reading this blog is to make this Mental Health Awareness Week count by doing one thing to further the cause of mental illness awareness: post a message on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed in support of those who live with mental illness; start a dialogue about mental illness with an open mind and heart. You may think that your one small contribution can’t make a difference, but I believe wholeheartedly that it can. And I also know that when individual, small voices come together, we can make a great, big, positive noise.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. – Margaret Mead
1 Canadian Medical Association (2008). 8th National Report Card on Health Care.
2 Mental Health Commission of Canada (2013). Opening Minds Interim Report.
3 Statistics Canada (2012). Mortality. Summary of Listed Causes 2009.
About Susan Mifsud
Susan Mifsud is a 49 year old mother of two adult sons who has worked in university administration for the last 25 years. She is an active volunteer and advocate in support of the elimination of stigma and shame related to mental illness and addiction. Follow Susan’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds blog or additionally follow Susan on Twitter.