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The Stigma of Mental Illness

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation (CAMH), 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from mental health problems. The other 4 will know a friend or family member who sometime in their life will have a mental health issue. In other words, mental health issues affect us all. And yet, they remain stigmatized, with only 49% of people willing to admit and discuss a mental health problem, compared to 72% willing to discuss their diagnosis of cancer or diabetes.

Why are mental health issues viewed in such a negative light? Individuals who suffer from mental health issues are not weaker, less intelligent or unable to handle their emotions as some people suspect. At times we all may feel sad, anxious or even paranoid, but for some people, these feelings do not subside when the triggers disappear. There are many reasons why, from genetic factors to environmental stressors, often increased by substance abuse.

Unlike those suffering from a physical ailment who will seek medical help, many of those with mental issues often cannot bring themselves to ask for help. Without help, their problems can worsen, and they become less and less likely to get the help they need. The stigma surrounding mental illness only exacerbates the problem. Those who are suffering often will not seek help as they are afraid of what others will think of them- they fear rejection and becoming ostracized. So instead, they suffer in silence.

Our society needs to recognize that mental health issues are a widespread problem that affects everyone- according the 2006 journal produced by the Canadian government The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada,: ‘’Mental Health is the number one cause of disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of the total costs.’’As we become more accepting of mental illness and its impact on our society, we will we be able to deal with more effectively.

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