A friend of mine is struggling with her mental health. Something happened recently that sent her life into a tailspin, and she is having trouble coping. She can’t stop crying and is barely eating and sleeping. She has lived with depression for a long time, and it’s been manageable, but now she is at an all-time low. I’m worried about her. I’ve been talking to her about it, and I suggested she get some help from a therapist, but she isn’t ready. “I’ll just find a way to get through it on my own,” she says. Sound familiar?
I know firsthand that it can be tough to recognize when you need help. Years ago, when I was going through a major life crisis, it took me too long to ask for help. Later, I could see that I should have reached out to someone sooner. Why is it so hard to ask for help with our mental health? Would it surprise you to know that 60% of people with a mental health problem don’t seek help?
The power of stigma
That’s the power of stigma. I was worried about what people would think. The shame of admitting to myself that I was having a problem was so paralyzing that it kept me from getting help. I became filled with self-doubt. I started to lose trust in myself. Was I going to become one of ‘those people’? My imagination went wild with images of dismal institutions with bars on the windows and shock therapy.
The world influences our beliefs
Where did I get these ideas? We can call it cultural conditioning. We have been influenced to think of mental illness as frightening and debilitating and to see people who are dealing with mental health problems as unstable, violent, or dangerous. The media plays a big part in perpetuating the harmful stereotypes of mental illness. Mass media, television, and film have been shaping our ideas for a long time about what mental health and mental illness look like. The villains in the movies are so often characterizations of a person with a mental health condition. There are countless depictions of people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia portrayed as violent, unstable, and dangerous. These are not accurate or fair representations.
Just as media needs to be viewed with a critical eye, we should check our own assumptions about mental health and mental illness. We can inform ourselves about the facts, and we can learn how to be better allies to others.
5 Ways you can help
Everyone has a role to play in creating an inclusive community. Here are 5 ways you can help:
- Get the facts. Educate yourself about mental illness and share with family, friends, work colleagues, and classmates.
- Get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness so you learn to see them for the person they are rather than their illness.
- Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour. Choose your words carefully. Avoid stigmatizing people by seeing the person first and not labelling them by their mental illness.
- Challenge myths and stereotypes. You can help challenge stigma by speaking up when you hear people around you make negative or wrong comments about mental illness.
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Offer support and encouragement.
Where to find help
All those years ago, I wish help had been easier to find. Things have changed! If you or someone you care about might need some support, there are many options now. Here are some suggestions:
Wellness Together Canada
To connect with a mental health professional one-on-one:
- call 1-888-668-6810 or text WELLNESS to 686868 for youth
- call 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 741741 for adults
You can also visit Wellness Together Canada
Kids Help Phone
Call 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) or text CONNECT to 686868. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to Canadians aged 5 to 29 who want confidential and anonymous care from trained responders.
Visit the Kids Help Phone website for online chat support or to access online resources for children and youth.
Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
Offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada. Phone and chat counselling is available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut.
Nicole Chevrier is Marketing and Communications Manager with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health is one of her passions.
Nicole is an avid writer and photographer. A first-time author, she recently published her first children’s book to help children who are experiencing bullying.
When she isn’t at her desk, Nicole loves to spend her time doing yoga and meditation, ballroom dancing, hiking, and celebrating nature with photography. She is a collector of sunset moments.