BY KEISHA JOHNSON
Did you know that in any given week 500,000 employed Canadians are unable work because of mental health issues? That’s striking. And so is the fact that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians report experiencing a mental health or addiction problem.
According to Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illness in Canada prepared by Risk Analytica on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2011, “by the time Canadians reach forty years old, 1 in 2 [50%] report having or have had a mental illness.”
This means they may have experienced or are struggling with issues such as mood or anxiety disorder (e.g. depression, phobias), conduct disorder, ADHD, ODD, substance use disorders, problem gambling, schizophrenia or dementia.
The projections are that by 2041, approximately 20.5 percent of the population or an estimated 8.9 million Canadians will be living with mental health issues.
If we adopt the definition of mental health or mental well-being as a person’s capacity to enjoy life and cope with challenges, the implication is that many more persons than we imagine are not coping. Some aspect of life is out of balance and they are compromised or impaired in their capacity to not only enjoy quality of life, but to optimally contribute to society.
“It could be anything that throws someone over the edge: a letter, a call, an accident, exposure to violence or tragedy, loss of a loved one, etc., any trauma,” explained addictions counsellor at Toronto’s Seaton House, Richard Brown.
The fact is, all of us across all age groups face challenges that could threaten our ability to maintain balance in our physical, social, spiritual, economical or mental life. Adults are at highest risk of mental imbalance at the significant thresholds in their journey to maturity Brown suggests. For example, “when they take on more responsibilities such as the start of a career or family or at the start of retirement when they begin to process end of life issues, quality of life concerns and financial responsibilities [post employment].”
Maybe that accounts for why the highest incidence of mental illness is among 20-49 year olds, with 25-34 year olds spiking among employed Canadians.
Still, youth 15-24 years old is the most vulnerable group. They are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group.
The vulnerability to mental illness is pervasive and early detection is key to recovery, yet most people experiencing mental health challenges shy away from help primarily for fear of stigmatization.
“Many people living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the illness itself. It can manifest in the loss of friends and loved ones—the people most critical to one’s social support network. It can limit employment, housing and educational opportunities. Through all these forms of reinforcement, stigma is often internalized by those with mental illness. They come to self-stigmatize, which can be an obstacle to accessing care—and to their quality of life,” documented a report of the 5th International Stigma Conference held 2012 in Ottawa, ON.
Fear of stigmatization is not unfounded. Thankfully, there is a progressively positive shift in the awareness of mental health issues and the general population’s attitudes towards people with mental illness. We leave you with five tips from Richard Brown to help you preserve your mental well-being.
(1) Get connected with supportive people. Have regular face-to-face contact. Don’t isolate yourself. (2) Get involved with a hobby that you enjoy and that relieves stress in a positive way. (3) Get moving: Run. Walk. Exercise your body, it exercises your brain and is a great stress reliever. (4) Learn how to manage stress constructively: Stress is a part of life. (5) Diet: What you eat can affect your brain and emotions. Eat to not just look good but to also feel good.
Bonus: Invest in self-care – “put your own mask on first” and focus on yourself and your well-being before that of others. Find what is your niche, what is it God designed for you to do for your enjoyment and your fulfillment and don’t compromise or negotiate that for anything or anyone.