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World Mental Health Day: Mental Health for All

Mental health is a concern for all. The theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘mental health for all’ and in that spirit this blog is dedicated to shedding some light on mental health and the stigma surrounding it. Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 4-10) shines a spotlight on mental illness, its prevalence, the stigma still attached to it, and the challenges people who live with chronic mental illness face.

Close to 1 billion people are living with a mental disorder, 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. And now, billions of people around the world have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a further impact on people’s mental health.

We know that 70% to 90% of people with mental health challenges report improved quality of life with support and treatment, yet the average time between the onset of symptoms and getting help is 11 years.

What is mental health?

Being mentally healthy does not just mean that you do not have a mental health problem.

If you are in good mental health, you can:

  • make the most of your potential
  • cope with life
  • play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends.

Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years, but most cases begin earlier in life. The effects of mental illness can be temporary or long lasting. You also can have more than one mental health disorder at the same time. For example, you may have depression and a substance use disorder. We don’t know yet if that’s getting worse as the pandemic continues, or if people are adjusting and stabilizing, but the fact is that the pandemic has affected our mental health.

What is good mental health?

Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil several key functions and activities, including:

  • the ability to learn
  • the ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
  • the ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
  • the ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty.

Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ and it is just as important as good physical health. Mental health is everyone’s business. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass. But sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and that could happen to any one of us.

Everyone is different. You may bounce back from a setback while someone else may feel weighed down by it for a long time. Your mental health does not always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life. There is a stigma attached to mental health problems. This means that people feel uncomfortable about them and do not talk about them much. Many people do not even feel comfortable talking about their feelings. But it is healthy to know and say how you are feeling.

The pandemic’s widespread effects offer us an opportunity to increase our understanding and to decrease the stigma related to discussing mental health. How many of us, or those close to us, have felt isolated, wary, unsure, hopeless, and/or threatened during this time?

This pandemic has created a world in which many can now relate to needing help to cope with uncertainty — and feel empathy for those who have been dealing with an overwhelming and confusing world for a long time. Perhaps we can imagine how just one more thing can pile on to a history of past trauma and push someone who had been a pretty functional adult to being unable to complete normal daily activities. Likely all of us now understand a little better how social isolation compounds over time.

This Mental Illness Awareness Week, let’s all work to help reduce the stigma of mental illness, and help those facing challenges feel safe in seeking help without judgment. Become familiar with the resources in your community so you know how to connect people to help. Listen to what people with mental illness want you to know. And if you are struggling, know that you are not alone. Help is available.