Break the Stigma of Mental Illness

Did you know that one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year?

Among those, 60% won’t seek help for fear of being labeled (Mental Commission of Canada).

Even though mental illness is so widespread, it is a topic that is still uncomfortable for some to discuss. Those who suffer with mental illness are our family, friends, co-workers and community members. Those with mental illness often report feeling like they are a lesser person or that somehow they are responsible for their mental illness. The 2014 WCHC Community Wellbeing Assessment found that although respondents found that there has been an improvement in the stigma around mental illness, it still exists and is seen as a significant barrier to accessing support.A recent study on mental health and farmers conducted by Andria Jones-Bitton at the University of Guelph highlights why support is especially significant in a rural, farming community. The study found:

  • Farmers are among the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health.
  • Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion and burnout are all higher among farmers than among other groups.
  • Canadian farmers are more stressed than those living and working elsewhere.

This is concerning knowing that many with mental illness are suffering in silence and afraid to reach out for help. The stigma around mental illness has a profound effect in our communities. The stigma around mental illness is an invisible way that we separate people in our community. Many with mental illness feel this stigma in their community connections, friends, access to services such as housing, and employment. We invite you to think about how you might reach out to support someone with a mental illness and to reflect on how our community can be inclusive. Researchers have noted that social connections and belonging are key factors that keep us mentally well. We need to shift our approach to mental illness from exclusion to inclusion and connection. We are fortunate to live in a community that has a high level of connection and sense of belonging. Together we have a role to play to break down the stigma! This support can be our openness to talk about mental health and including individuals or family members who are struggling with mental illness. The following are actions we can take to break down the stigma.

  1. Know the facts – Educate yourself about substance use and mental health problems — what can bring them on; who is more likely to develop problems; and how to prevent or reduce the severity of problems. Learn the facts instead of the myths.
  2. Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour – We’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking, which are passed on by society and reinforced by family, friends and the media. You can change the way you think — and see people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes.
  3. Choose your words carefully – The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental health and substance use problems. For example, speak about “a person with schizophrenia” rather than “a schizophrenic.”
  4. Educate others – Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with substance use and mental health problems. If people or the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with substance use and mental health problems, and keep alive the false ideas.