In the News: Mental Health in Focus

January 31, 2014

Man looking distressed.As many of you may know, this past Tuesday was Bell’s annual “Let’s Talk Day,” an initiative dedicated to raising money and spreading awareness of mental health across Canada. For every text, call, Facebook share, or tweet, Bell donated 5 cents towards the funding of mental health programs. This year, 5.5 million dollars were raised.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mental illness affects people of all ages, education levels, income levels, and cultures. Youth are at particularly high risk of suffering the dangers of mental health: It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth suffer from mental illness. More alarming is the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds. Just this week, the University of Missouri stated it would start focusing more on student mental health following the suicide of 20-year-old Sasha Menu Courey, a Toronto woman who had been attending the school on a swimming scholarship. You can read the full story here. According to CMHA, only 1 out of every 5 youth who are in need of mental health care actually receive it.

What could be the reasons for such low levels of help-seeking behaviour? Many point to a lack of knowledge and understanding of mental illness, which in turn leads to stigma. We live in a society in which symptoms of mental illness are not treated with the same degree of seriousness and concern as those caused by physical illness. There is a persistent belief that the workings of our mind are always under our control. This can lead to negative judgments and a belief that those with mental illness can simply “snap out of it” if only they had the desire and will power to do so. Those suffering from mental illness may internalize such beliefs and attitudes, leading to shame, concealment, and ultimately, an unwillingness to seek help.

Despite the tragic stories and statistics that make the headlines, progress is being made. The Toronto District School Board recently announced a four-year mental health strategic plan. Some features of the plan include training staff on mental health issues and establishing “Mental Health Teams” within schools.

Though mental health is typically studied in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, perspective from other academic fields can be highly illuminating. In “Health Communication and Psychological Distress: Exploring the Language of Self-harm” (CMLR 68.3), authors Kevin Harvey and Brian Brown explore the language used by adolescents in their accounts of self-harm and the implications this has for health care professionals seeking to treat such individuals. In “Finding the Right Mix: How Do Contextual Factors Affect Collaborative Mental Health Care in Ontario?” (CPP 33.1), authors Gillian Mulvale and Ivy Lynn Bourgeault discuss the factors that affect collaboration among mental health care providers. And in “Student Activism, Mental Health, and English-Canadian Universities in the 1960s” (CHR 92.3), Patricia Jasen explores the emergence and subsequent development of mental health services in Canadian universities.

What are your views on mental health? What can be done to erase the stigma and help those in need? Tweet us your ideas @utpjournals.

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