Gala Helps Shine Light On The Dark Stigma Behind Mental Illness

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Photo by: Simone Williams

BY SARA MILLER

You may not have known it, but the stranger you passed by on the street this morning could be suffering in silence. Experienced by twenty percent or one in five Canadians, mental illnesses can take the form of a number of disorders that are often met with feelings of confusion, discomfort and fear from the public. Affecting people of all ages, sex, race and cultures, healthcare professionals define mental illnesses as a health problem that affects the way a person thinks and interacts with not only themselves, but with others. It is not a “one-size fits all”, affecting people with different symptoms and challenges and can be categorized into several groups. These include psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa, mood disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When Simone Walsh was diagnosed with depression, she was taken back by the lack of support for those who were dealing with a mental illness.

“When I was going through my storm, I saw that there was barely any support to help me. There are families and friends who deal with mental illness and as a person who went through it, they don’t have the adequate support they need.” Walsh said.

Founded by Walsh, the Essence of MIND is a non-profit, public organization that helps families and individuals get the essential support and treatment they need to deal with the daily challenges their disorders create. Their mission is to end the social stigma that plagues those who suffer from mental illnesses and improve their confidence, happiness and sense of normalcy through events, seminars, guest speakers and wellness activities.

“One of the most important factors in treating individuals with mental illness is making sure that the person has a solid and positive support system” said Walsh.

“It is very important to have support especially from families. When you are diagnosed, it’s not something that a lot of people like to share with the world. We want to get to a place where people are not ashamed and can openly discuss the topic,” Walsh said.

“If the family can understand it and can accept it, that’s when the treatment can ultimately start.”

In a 2011 study commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the MHCC found that the total cost of mental health illnesses in the form of health care, social services and income support is significant, costing the Canadian economy an estimated $50 billion. That number is slated to double to $2.5 trillion over the next thirty years. In recent years, The Government of Canada has implemented strategies with provincial and territorial governments to create efficient mental health services, however according to Walsh, more needs to be done.

“Recently, a couple of clinics have opened up in Toronto that are designated for those who have mental illnesses, but I think there could be more in different communities. Right now, the clinics are mostly set up in Toronto,” she said.

“There could also be better funding in relation to housing as many people who have mental illnesses are homeless as well as better access to doctors and treatments.”

On October 8th, 2016, the organization held its sixth annual fundraising gala “Stimulus” in support of Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual and national campaign that was designed to help the Canadian public understand the reality of mental illnesses and the people who have them.

Hosted by actress Marcia Brown, the event featured Toronto based psychologist Dr. Natasha Brown as the keynote speaker. Speaking on the theme of dealing with mental health in our daily lives, Brown discussed in detail how the topic of mental illness and mental health has been stigmatized for too long.  Throughout the evening, guests were entertained by artists and performers such as William Leathers, Krishane Prince, Taleeba, Tomy Bewick and Latoya Mullings. The event also featured a seated dinner, a silent auction as well as raffle prizes and a fashion show.

Funds raised from the gala will be used to create more seminars and community initiatives that the organization hopes will help families and individuals get the support they need.

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