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Why Can’t Our Mental Health Catch a Break?

Why Can’t Our Mental Health Catch a Break?

Mental Health Awareness Month

Views on mental health have come a long way. In previous centuries, treatment ranged from lobotomy and exorcism to bloodletting and asylum commitment. The ways mental health was approached were often cruel and barbaric, but thankfully, many of those methods are now illegal or deeply frowned upon. In 2024, the world of mental health has greatly expanded, although simultaneously, we’re arguably facing more global and internal challenges than ever. Canadians need support on these issues but are still facing blocks such as stigma from society, barriers to effective treatment, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In honour of mental health awareness month, we will overview some of these relevant obstacles happening in 2024, hoping to bring awareness and shine light on these problems.

Breaking Down Stigma

Mental illness and the general topic of mental health have been stigmatized in society for many years, and even in 2024 we still see this happening. Before breaking it down, let’s define what a “stigma” is. A stigma is a negative and often unfair social attitude attached to a person or group, typically shaming them for a perceived deficiency or difference. This can come from society, loved ones, coworkers, or personal acceptance/internalization. Individuals with mental health conditions often face stigma from all corners. It may come in the form of labelling, stereotyping, or discrimination. For instance, someone with schizophrenia could be unfairly labelled as “crazy” or “irresponsible.” Research shows that stereotypical beliefs and discriminatory attitudes persist worldwide against individuals with mental illness. Illness severity, poor therapeutic outcome, disturbances in emotional expression during social interaction, and incidents of violent or dangerous behaviours have all been shown to influence public stigma.

These invalid beliefs have devastating effects. Those who struggle with mental health not only carry the weight of navigating daily life on their shoulders but also the added weight of prejudice and rejection, even from those they love and trust. This can lead individuals to develop feelings of self-blame or low self-esteem and prevent them from seeking treatment, attending social outings, or reaching for professional opportunities. Studies demonstrate these repercussions, finding that mental health stigma negatively affects employment, income, and public views about resource allocation and healthcare costs.

Treatment Barriers

Although effective treatment options for various mental health concerns are available, they can be inaccessible. The accessibility of treatment, such as therapy, medication, and psychiatry, can be influenced by certain factors, for example, income, location, or race. Waitlists are highly congested, and if an individual can find an option that works for them, it could take months for it to become available. This issue is due to a lack of mental health services being provided in comparison to how many Canadians need them. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information suggests most Canadians are waiting weeks, if not months, to access mental health counselling in their communities.

As an individual, even if you recognize you would like to explore help and decide to take that step for yourself, you may not be able to find the support you need. This can be catastrophic for those in crisis and can lead to feelings of hopelessness. Depending on the severity, timely intervention is crucial and can be life-saving. As we know, COVID-19 also had repercussions in multiple areas, and one of those was mental health. Canadians have expressed this, with 54% saying their mental health has worsened. It’s not difficult to imagine that this has put a boatload of pressure on a system that already needed readjusting and support. The global perspective is eerily similar, with new research from the World Health Organization finding that the first year of the pandemic increased worldwide levels of anxiety and depression by an astonishing 25%.

How Can We Do Better?

On April 9th, 2024, the government of Canada released an article that states: “Today, the government announced Canada’s new Youth Mental Health Fund, which will help younger Canadians access the mental health care they need by reducing wait times and providing more care options.” This announcement is an excellent step towards providing accessible services for Canadians, and hopefully, more significant steps will continue to be taken. On an individual level, valuable things can be done to help increase mental health awareness. Speaking out about your own experiences helps to reduce stigma and encourages those around you to do the same. Stigma is often the product of a lack of knowledge and understanding; therefore, educating yourself on mental health issues is another way to reduce negative connotations around this subject. With education needs to come interaction. Psychology Today published an article in 2021 by Abigail Fagan about how stigma has evolved over time. In this article, Fagan references Patrick Corrigan from the University of Illinois and his book called The Stigma Effect, where Corrigan states the following: “We can get all the education we want, but if we don’t have proximity and interaction with networks and family members who have mental illness and talk about them, we’re not going to get where we want to go.” By being educated and connecting with others, you can challenge fictional beliefs about mental health in society, your inner circle, and possibly within yourself. Knowledge truly is power.

 

So, where are we when it comes to mental health in 2024? We can confidently say that huge strides have been made, but in the same breath, more needs to be done. Mental health is a pillar of success and should be one of our society’s top priorities. While COVID-19 had many devastating effects, one positive is that it granted us the ability to see how important mental health is, how quickly it can deteriorate, and that no person is immune from struggle. As education and open conversations around mental health grow, so does acceptance, understanding, and treatment options. Gandhi once said, be the change you want to see in the world, and we believe this is the best route to take as an individual campaigning for better mental health treatment and less stigma around the topic. Let’s hope that in 2025, we continue to grow as a society and prioritize not only physical but also mental healthcare for all Canadians.