Mental health awareness week

This week is mental illness awareness week and this year’s theme is “face mental illness”. The challenge is to put a face to illness and bring it out of the shadows.

Did you know that nearly one in five Canadians lives with a mental illness? In spite of being extremely common, there is still a significant stigma associated with mental illness and it prevents many people from getting the treatment they need.

You may be thinking that the topic of stigma is over-played or you may feel that although it probably exists, you are more open-minded than most and are not plagued by any prejudices concerning mental illness.

Consider this for a moment though: how would you react if you were diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety? How would you respond if your doctor suggested you take an antidepressant medication or visit a therapist? Would you feel differently than if your doctor recommended an antibiotic? Would you try to work it out for yourself before taking your doctor’s advice? Or would worry over the pharmacist seeing your prescription cause you to delay getting it filled?

Suppose you met a friend who asked what your doctor’s appointment was about or why you were taking medication – would you be as likely to acknowledge a mental illness as you would a sore throat, bladder infection or heart condition?

For most people, the answer to this last question is no – and that is an indication that there is still significant stigma surrounding mental illnesses. In spite of liberal attitudes in many areas, we may not be as open-minded as we sometimes believe we are.

If we hope to eliminate this prejudice in our society, we all need to start by examining our own minds to find where we might have hidden misconceptions about mental illness. Begin by sorting through our own feelings and getting correct information and then help to raise awareness in those around us.

One of the very tangible and tragic consequences of stigma is the one million suicides worldwide every year. It is estimated that 90% of those result from undiagnosed mental illness. Diagnosis and treatment can reduce suicides, duration and severity of illness and disability and vastly improve quality of life.

In an effort to battle stigma and bring mental illness out of the shadows, the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health has established a campaign with the help of many brave individuals who are willing to show their faces as fellow Canadians living with mental illness. Some of their stories can be found at www.miaw-ssmm.ca/camimh.php. Here you can see that with proper diagnosis and treatment, there is no reason why mental illness needs to have a lasting negative impact on most people’s lives.

Other excellent resources for learning the truth about mental illness – what it is, who it affects and how it is dealt with include your local health care providers, the Canadian Mental Health Association at www.cmha.ca, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at www.camh.net, or the National Institute of Mental Health in the US at www.nimh.nih.gov.

I am also happy to answer any questions you may have about mental illness and its treatment. You can contact our office or email me directly at dr@okanaganclinicaltrials.com.

Together we can face mental illness.

 

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