Statistics show that almost one out of every five Canadians experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. Yet, misconceptions, stigma, misinformation and negativity prevail. According to the Canadian Mental Health Associations 2008 National Report Card, 46 per cent of Canadians think people use the term "mental illness? as an excuse for bad behaviour. The poll also showed that only 50 per cent of Canadians would confide with a friend or relative if they were diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent who would tell others if they were diagnosed with cancer.
Living with depression and anxiety is difficult enough without adding stigma to these experiences. Not to mention, many people struggling with these issues have grown up believing these same myths and misinformation themselves. Imagine feeling guilty or ashamed for having cancer or diabetes? Imagine struggling with a chronic life altering condition and feeling the need to hide your symptoms? It is unthinkable ? yet it happens every day.
In keeping with the recent mention of Mental Health Day in February, the next couple posts will exam some of the myths and misinformation surrounding mental health issues. To begin this myth busting exercise here are some questions and answers:
1. True or False: Anxiety Disorders often occur with other illnesses? This is true.
2. What is the most common mental health problem in Canada: Depression, Schizophrenia or Anxiety Disorders? The answer is that Depression hits 1 in 5 people and Anxiety 1 in 12 and Schizophrenia 1 in 100. Depression is the common cold of mental illnesses.
3. Depression is very similar to feeling down or "blue." This is false. Depression is much worse than having a blue day. We all have a blue day now and again. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and it responds well to a combination of medication, talk therapy and exercise.
4. Most people successfully take control of the symptoms of anxiety by sheer will power and strength? This is false. You can NOT will it away. There are great treatments now for anxiety and it is most helpful if people ask for help. You don't need to do this alone.
5. People often won't talk about depression because they see it as a weakness or a personality trait? This is true especially for men. It is not a weakness or personality trait. It is an illness that needs treatment.
6. Christians (people of faith) get depression less often than non-Christians. False. Depression can hit anyone of any race, religion, colour or socio economic background. It is not a respecter of persons at all. People of faith often suffer more because they feel guilt that they shouldn't be feeling this way because they should be feeling the joy of the Lord. Shame accompanies their depression.
Come back for more about myths, misconceptions and stigma about mental health.
By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald
Principles for Real Living:
I am responsible for my own attitude
My attitude affects my actions
I can not change others, but I can influence others
My emotions do not control my actions
Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world
Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008