Ontarians should be talking about mental health every day

The World Health Organization declared yesterday World Mental Health Day, but in reality much more awareness is necessary every day of the toll mental health and addictions take on society throughout the year.

The Centre For Addictions and Mental Health has shared some mind-boggling numbers about the far-reaching impact of mental illness. Studies have shown the economic burden of mental illness in Canada alone estimated at $51 billion per year in health care costs, productivity and reductions in quality of life.  Numbers supporting that clam state that nearly 500,000 employed Canadians miss work time in any given week due to struggles with mental illness. The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies also revealed in a 2012 study that in Ontario, mental health causes a larger burden in terms of premature death and years of reduced functioning than cancer or infectious disease — 1.5 times the rate of all cancers.

Those numbers are difficult to digest, but some are even tougher. Even with increasing awareness, about half the people who struggle with mental health conditions do not talk about them, even with family and friends. Just two years ago, 40 per cent of Canadians who felt they experienced anxiety or depression did not seek medical help for the hardships they were facing. In short, while physical illnesses are discussed and treated freely, there’s still incredible stigma associated with mental health. It shouldn’t be that way. Conservatively, one in every five people in this country has suffered. That’s easy math to do when you’re sitting at school or at a public event.

The stigma is real and, in many cases, it’s worse than the illness itself. It must be countered through more people seeking to understand mental illness, to be aware of its symptoms, and reach out to one another. The more it becomes acceptable or normal to be living with mental illness, the more likely it is that people will be able to find the social and medical aids necessary to reverse those troubling statistics and contribute at their maximum capacity.

It would seem awareness and acceptance is the easy part in society’s battle for mental health. The difficult part is ensuring there are enough resources to properly assist those who will be coming forward to share their stories.

Researchers studying Ontario’s health-care system found that it has traditionally underfunded mental health, compared to the burden it has on the society. Additional resources dedicated to mental health could make a huge difference. The government must also be persuaded to work smarter to ensure that services are available, particularly in rural communities such as this one. Advances in telemedicine can make it easier for at-risk rural residents, including youth to access medical professionals, therapists and counsellors outside their communities faster, allowing for maintenance before illness spirals out of control.

The odds are good that nearly every Ontario resident knows someone who suffers with mental illness. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, and every day, it is their duty to start having conversations to reduce stigma and effect positive change one person at a time.

-Adam Bramburger