Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mental Illness Awareness Week: Canada Stands Ready for Positive Change

An opinion piece posted on October 4th by the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
Op-Ed to coincide with Mental Illness Awareness Week

By Louise Bradley (pictured)

I have worked in the mental health field in Canada for over three decades, and I can say without exaggeration that never before have I seen such a high level of awareness about mental illness in this country. At last, mental health and mental illness are taking centre stage.

From coast to coast to coast, Canadians are stepping forward to talk publicly about their own personal experiences with mental health problems and mental illnesses, and by taking this courageous action, they are making a real difference to countless others.

In September, after 17-year-old high school student Chris Howell, who had been bullied since grade school, committed suicide, 150 friends and family gathered in front his school to mourn his loss and call for an end to bullying. “I just want to stop it,” Chris’s mother Judy told the Hamilton Spectator. “I don’t want anyone else to have to pay.”

For their part, after their son Jack, a first-year student at Queen’s University, took his own life last year, Eric and Sandra Windeler established The Jack Project, a national program to help Canadian youth achieve optimal mental health as they transition from late high school into their college, university or independent living years.

And then there are people like Harmony Brown, Jeremy Bennett, Roberta Price, Shana Calixte, and Steeve Hurdle, who are this year’s “faces” in the Face Mental Illness Campaign coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health as part of this week’s Mental Illness Awareness Week national public education campaign.

By sharing their personal stories, these five, too, are helping to end stigma and bring mental illness out of the shadows forever.

Today, hundreds of organizations across the country are working tirelessly to raise public awareness about mental health problems and mental illnesses through advocacy and by providing services and supports to those in need.

Canadian companies, including Bell Canada, RBC, Great-West Life and Canada Post, are investing millions of dollars to raise awareness about mental health, improve children’s and workplace mental health, and support organizations on the mental health front lines.

Governments across the country are also addressing mental health in more meaningful ways with new strategies, action plans and investments.

Thousands more individual Canadians are empowering themselves by learning how to spot the signs of mental health problems in family, friends and even themselves through courses being offered by Mental Health First Aid Canada. To date, over 42,000 Canadians have become mental health first aiders.

It is little wonder we are seeing such a ground swell of action and support for mental health.

Canadians have woken up to the fact that ignoring mental health is detrimental to individuals, families, and communities, as well as our society and economy as a whole.

They are becoming aware that there is no health without mental health, and that no one is immune from mental illnesses. This year alone, more than seven million Canadians—that is one in five people—will experience a mental illness personally, and in turn, this will impact family, friends and colleagues.

We are making progress in changing attitudes about mental health, but there is still much work to be done.

We need to be doing more to improve access to mental health services, decrease stigma, support the needs of families caring for ill relatives, invest in research spanning the full spectrum of issues relating to mental health and mental illness, promote mental health, and prevent mental illness so that every Canadian has the opportunity to achieve the best possible mental health and well-being. All this and more will be addressed in the first-ever Mental Health Strategy for Canada, which the Mental Health Commission of Canada will release next year.

What can you do to help?

To start, I urge all Canadians to pledge to the cause of mental health, not just during this Mental Illness Awareness Week, but 365 days a year, by supporting a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a neighbour living with a mental health problem or mental illness and helping them build a better life for themselves. And potentially everyone will have a role to play in bringing the Mental Health Strategy for Canada to life and ensuring it has maximum impact.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to build a society that values and promotes mental health and helps people living with mental health problems and mental illnesses to lead meaningful and productive lives.

This will require some fundamental changes to our systems of mental health care and also to our collective way of thinking about mental illness, but if the past year is anything to go by, Canadians are ready to take on this challenge and ready, willing and able to work together to achieve positive change.

Louise Bradley is President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Image credit

Also see:

Housing first for the mentally ill: Former MP wants changes to assist those in need

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