Published on FemEvolve blog

You go for yearly physicals that track your height, weight, and developmental milestones.  You are allotted sick days at work when you have the flu.  Every 6 months you go to the dentist for a check-up.  But what are you doing for your mental health…?! 

The answer? Probably not a heck of a lot.

As a mental health nurse, I have seen firsthand how stigma remains a barrier for individuals seeking help.  I am dedicated to raising awareness and bringing enlightenment through education, early intervention, and ensuring quality care is provided.

But what is ‘stigma’?

Stigma can be defined as labelling, stereotyping, and discrimination of a social group (Clement et al., 2015).  In terms of our mental health, stigma can cause individuals to deny symptoms, delay treatment, and refrain from usual activities of daily living (Bathje & Pryor, 2011).

Interestingly, 81% of our society feel we have more awareness of mental health issues compared to five years ago (CAMH, 2015).  Bravo! Sounds like some progress, right?  Yet 40% of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they had experienced feelings of depression but never sought medical treatment…Why? Because the stigma of mental health still exists.  So just because we are more aware of our mental health, does not mean we are having the right conversation…

The good news is that there are real steps you can take to help:

1. Talk Openly About Mental Disorders. You are not alone. 1 in 3 Canadians experience a mental illness or addiction (Government of Canada, 2017).  Be an advocate and empower others to openly discuss their thoughts, feelings, and emotional state.  And remember, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and speak openly isn’t a weakness, but a great strength.

2. Stop Using Stigmatizing Words and Start Using the Proper Terminology. This is something I have said to all my clients (regardless of the unit I am working on): You are not your condition.  You must see someone as a whole person with a life story, unique characteristics, and distinct values.  Saying “she is bipolar” or “he’s schizophrenic” perpetuates this stigma.  Have you ever said “she is influenza” when referring to someone who has the flu?  I didn’t think so!  Instead, we say “she has bipolar disorder” or “he has schizophrenia”.

3. Educate Yourself and Others. As a society, we are unable to recognize and acknowledge mental illness conditions in others, and often times, unable to recognize it in ourselves.  As such, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, remain vastly under-treated.  I urge you to do some research and learn more about mental health.  Attend workshops and seminars at your local hospital.  Talk to your family doctor or health care providers.  Feel free to click the links at the bottom of this article for some reputable resources.

If you or someone you know is in a crisis, seek help immediately.  Call your local emergency department or COAST crisis line at 1-877-825-9011.

4. Integrate Mental Wellness into Your Daily Life.  What helps you cope with your stress? Is it going dancing with your friends? Watching that episode of the bachelor? Partaking in meditation apps before bed?  Whatever you find helps you, DO IT! You give so much to everyone else, so don’t forget to give a little bit back to yourself.  Reach out to your friends, family, and healthcare providers.  We are all here to help.

5. Show Compassion and Empathy.  Always.  Be.  Kind.  It is so important not to judge others.  As they say, “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  You may have no idea what someone is truly feeling, but try your best to understand and empathize.  It costs absolutely nothing to be kind.

If we consciously practice these 5 ways to de-stigmatize, together we can take another step forward to improve the mental health in our community <3

With love and kindness,

M. Young, RN

Reputable Resources:

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health: http://www.camh.ca/

Canadian Mental Health Association: https://cmha.ca/

References

Bathje, G., & Pryor, J. (2011) The Relationships of Public and Self-Stigma to Seeking Mental Health Services. Journal of Mental Health Counseling: April 2011, Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 161-176.

Clement, S., Schauman, O., Graham, T., Maggioni, F., Evans-Lacko, S., Bezborodovs, N., . . . Thornicroft, G. (2015). What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies. Psychological Medicine, 45(1), 11-27.

Government of Canada.  (2017). Mental Illness Awareness Week.  Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/publichealth/news/2017/10/mental_illness_awarenessweekoctober172017worldmentalhealthdayoct.html

 

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