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Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada (Oct. 6 - 12, 2019) is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness. The week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and is now coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health in cooperation with all its member organizations and many other supporters across Canada. (1)
One in 5 people in Canada live with mental health issues, and during Mental Illness Awareness Week we often hear the phrase "Stop Stigma". Stigma has various definitions, but they all refer to negative attitudes, beliefs, descriptions, language or behavior. Stigma can translate into disrespectful, unfair, or discriminatory patterns in how we think, feel, talk and behave towards people with mental illness. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. It prevents people from seeking the help they need. (2)
Check in with yourself - be AWARE. Together we CAN make a difference. Here are some steps you can take to start making a difference.
1) Don't label people who have mental illness. Use person first language "has a mental illness" instead of "is mentally ill". People are people, not a diagnosis. "He has bipolar disorder" rather than "he's bipolar".
2) Don't be afraid of people with mental illness. Yes, they display unusual behaviors when their illness is more severe, but people with mental illness aren't more likely to be violent than the general population. In fact, they are more likely to be a victim of violence. Be aware to not adopt stereotypes from movies.
3) Don't use disrespectful terms for people with mental illness.Be careful about using diagnostic terms to describe everyday behavior such as: "that's just my OCD" or "she's so borderline".
4) Don't be insensitive or blame people with mental illness. Just because someone with anxiety or depression sometimes laughs, often they are in considerable internal distress. Provide support and reassurance when you know someone is having difficulty in managing their illness.5) Be a role model.Stigma is often fueled by lack of awareness and inaccurate information. Talk openly about mental health. Social media is a great way to present accurate information and break down the stigma. 6) Ensure equality between physical and mental illness. Would you make fun of someone with diabetes, cancer or heart disease?Changing attitudes takes time, but together we can help get rid of the stigma around mental illness.
Article Submitted by Keri Humphries, Behavioural Health Consultant at HealthWORX Clinic