Mental Illness Awareness: a Youth Perspective
By Olivia Mendoza, Youth Blogger
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, So I think it’s time to really talk about it.
Mental illness is everywhere. There may be an adult with schizophrenia next door or a teenager with depression across the street. Getting rid of the stigma against mental illness will not only reduce overall stress but it will also create an environment where people can seek help without worrying about being shamed.
Now don’t get me wrong: people do talk about mental illness, just not always in the right way. In media, depression is sometimes romanticized and downplayed into the occasional “blues.” On platforms like Tumblr, it is easy to find “artsy” black and white photos of thin girls staring off into the distance with quotes about death and self-harm. While one can find helpful resources for helping themselves or others with depression, there are also carefully filtered gifs of someone self-harming that are not only triggering but can also present depression as a mysterious personality attribute instead of a harmful illness.
But when was the last time we acknowledged the screaming boy at the mall who hits his head on walls or the quiet girl who gets a panic attack when she attends large parties? What about the homeless man who is addicted to alcohol or the woman whose store is filled with garbage that she can’t bring herself to throw out? It is time to stop laughing and pointing or glaring at parents for letting their child out of the house. Mental illness is not just a pretty girl sitting at a window surrounded by a soft vignette: it is a harsh reality that 20% of Canadians will experience in their lifetime. But there are also many things we can do to help.
Don’t be afraid to start a conversation. Just a few words of support can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Do some research and tell your friends to stop laughing and calling that guy a psycho. Volunteer at respite centres or hold events for Mental Illness Awareness in your community, school, or workplace. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend or co-worker if they need someone to talk to.
Don’t be afraid to send yourself or your loved ones to professional help.
According to the CMA, “Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness.” I think it’s time to change that number to zero. Let’s make Canada a truly welcoming country, together.
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UNICEF Canada advocates for a Canada where all children truly belong. To achieve this, all factors that impact on a child’s well-being must be given priority, which includes mental health. The importance of collecting data about mental illness and addressing mental health issues among children should not be underestimated. Research shows that healthy, positive relationships between children, their families, and their peers can improve their sense of well-being, create safe spaces where children feel comfortable to disclose any concerning thoughts, and counteract the stigma associated with mental health. To learn more about children and well-being, UNICEF’s Report Card 11 on Child Well-Being at www.unicef.ca/irc11