Mental Health Commission puts stigma under fire

I have written many times about stigma being the biggest hurdle to the treatment of mental illness today. I still believe this is true and am happy to share about a new initiative working directly against this negative force.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) launched an anti-stigma/anti-discrimination initiative last year to help raise awareness and bring mental illness out of the shadows.

Stigma is a negative or unfavourable attitude or a prejudice and it is one of the primary reasons that two thirds of people living with mental illness choose not to seek professional help.

In response to this, the MHCC began a program called Opening Minds. As an anti-stigma initiative, the group first targeted youth and health care providers because many adults first begin having symptoms of mental illness in their teen year and because most people living with a mental illness say they often experience the most discrimination on the health care front lines.

Opening Minds is working to raise awareness and educate these target groups about mental illness.

Another target group identified this year is the workforce - since many people choose to go untreated for fear of being labelled unreliable, unproductive or untrustworthy by their employer if they disclose a mental illness. At the same time, half a million Canadians are absent from work every day because of mental health problems – costing our economy $33 billion a year in lost productivity.

Some of the ways Opening Minds is working to bring mental illness out of the shadows include partnering with professional organizations and post secondary schools to reach out to media and professionals in the health and justice fields. They are also partnering with other organizations and communities and evaluating the effectiveness of ongoing projects designed to eliminate stigma in the target groups. Those with the most potential will be promoted or expanded to a national scale.

Several public awareness campaigns also ran across national media and featured personal stories of hope and recovery to help show the true faces of mental illness.

I applaud the Mental Health Commission of Canada for taking bold steps against stigma and hope they will be successful in their goals. The sooner we all realize mental illness is simply a part of the human experience and no different than other chronic ailments, the better.

If you are struggling with a mental health concern, don’t be afraid to seek help. Mental illness is not a character weakness and effective treatments can help you get back to functioning and enjoying life.


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