Underneath it all

One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. It’s an unsettling statistic, but one that I’ve seen surfacing more and more as an increasing number of people try to tackle the stigma around mental health.

Stigma is another word that I’ve seen a lot of in the past year. The campus club, COPE: A Student Mental Health Initiative, is currently running their second blitz supporting the ‘Elephant in the Room’ campaign, which recognizes the existence of social stigma and encourages students to overcome it by speaking openly about mental illness. The group first launched the campaign in September, 2011, and it’s been going strong ever since. But COPE is not the only group recognizing the importance of mental health awareness. Eliminating the stigma around mental illness has become a popular topic over the past year, with an increasing number of people speaking out.

In October, 2012, CBC Hamilton ran a very successful town hall, called Mental Health 101. The event featured four panelists, including a McMaster student and a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at McMaster Children’s hospital, and the topic of discussion was youth mental health. Some stirring anecdotes were shared, demonstrating the incredible need for greater mental health services for youth in Hamilton and beyond.

The story that I found particularly engaging was about access to services for homeless youth. The prevalence of mental illness in street-involved youth was found to be quite high, with over half of the youth going through the Notre Dame House shelter in 2011 being identified as having mental health issues. To add to that, youth with behavioural problems may not always be allowed to stay at some shelters, because they don’t necessarily do what they’re told. As it is now, youth shelters are much more proactive about addressing mental illness, but the limiting factor is inadequate resources. Although the majority of high-risk youth are being accepted into shelters, there are still waiting lists, which only propagate the difficulties that homeless youth face.

Some may think that mental illness is a heavy topic to discuss, some may be embarrassed, some afraid, but the truth is that it exists all around us, whether we acknowledge it or not. I think the stigma should be acknowledged. We’ve made some great steps in the field of mental health awareness, but there is still so much room for improvement and action.