MUSKOKA - We’re guessing that someone you love battles mental illness.
The odds are good because in Canada one in five people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Half of them won’t see a doctor about it.
This is Mental Health Week across the nation. In its 61st year, the initiative is focusing on five themes: Kids Have Stress Too; Workplace Mental Health; Resiliency at Home, at School, at Work; Stigma and Discrimination; and Mental Health is Everyone’s Concern.
In conversation with a local advocate for mental health awareness last week, she said that if you were suffering from cancer, you wouldn’t hide that from your community. You would immediately access the supports and medical aid available to you. You might even wear a pink ribbon and walk, run or bike for a cure.
As it should be.
Not so for mental illness. Families sweep it under the rug because our society still doesn’t know what to do with it. They hide in shame.
Not so long ago cancer was treated similarly. It was whispered about behind closed doors. Grandma called it the C-word and didn’t talk about it, even when she was dying of it.
It seems ridiculous to us now that we could have ever treated cancer, the horrible disease that takes our loved ones, with such shame.
This is how we’re hoping our society looks on mental illness in the near future. So when a child exhibits signs of depression, their family seeks care rather than burying their heads in the sand until another young mind is broken.
So when a new mother shows symptoms of post-natal depression, she knows to talk to her doctor before tragedy plays its deadly hand.
So when a father suffers from depression, he seeks help before self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and taking his pain out on his family through domestic violence.
It would be a brave new world.
Perhaps one where we no longer lose those we love to the slings and arrows of mental illness. Currently suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age. About a quarter of all deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds are from suicide. Four times as many men as women kill themselves.
It’s time we start talking about it.
Last night Muskoka-area school councils hosted a mental health awareness evening in Bracebridge.
A call to organizers as we were going to press yesterday confirmed the event was sold out. There weren’t enough seats to accommodate the number of people who wanted to spend an evening learning the causes, symptoms and treatments for child and youth stress, anxiety and depression.
This week Canada announced its first national mental health strategy. And this is great news. It means that the conversation is opening up. It seems that people are becoming more willing to talk about the problem.
It’s a really big one. It’s complicated and painful and none of the answers are easy. But as with every problem we face as a community, the first step toward finding solutions is to start talking.