Mental Health

The month of May is recognized as Mental Health Month in Canada, with campaigns, events, and conversations happening around the country all aimed at boosting awareness of mental health and how it affects us. However, stigma still exists when it comes to mental health, making it difficult for many people to seek the treatment they need. Is there a way to combat stigma? What should you do if you feel uncomfortable talking about your struggles or seeking help?

What is stigma?

Stigma is a set of negative and often unfair beliefs a group of people or society has about certain qualities, characteristics, or circumstances. Stigma can lead to discrimination, which may be obvious, such as someone making a remark about mental illness, or it may be subtle, like someone avoiding you because you may be “unstable”. Some of the harmful effects of stigma include:

  • Reluctance to seek treatment
  • Lack of understanding by those around you
  • Fewer opportunities for work, social activities, schooling, or housing options
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Health insurance that does not adequately cover mental illness treatment
  • Negative beliefs about yourself and your abilities

How can you cope with stigma?

  • Seek treatment: It may be difficult to push yourself to get help from a professional if you’ve experienced stigma. However, prioritizing your own mental health and speaking to someone who wants to help you and can provide a non-judgmental space will make a huge difference.
  • Challenge self-doubt and shame: Stigma may lead to feelings of shame and the belief that your condition is a sign of personal weakness that you should be able to control yourself. By educating yourself, seeking counselling, and connecting with others with similar experiences, you can challenge these ideas and increase your self-esteem.
  • Build connection: If you suffer from a mental illness or have mental health concerns, it can be tempting to isolate yourself. You may find it hard to talk about your experience, but connecting with trusted family, friends, or professionals is so important. You do not have to be alone. Reach out to someone who can offer support and compassion.
  • Separate yourself from your mental health symptoms or illness: Who you are as a person is separate from what you are dealing with mentally. For example, we often say things like “I’m bipolar” or “I’m depressed”. Start to change the language and separate yourself from your illness. For example, say “I have anxiety” or “I have bipolar disorder”.
  • Join a support group: Connecting with others who have the same mental health concerns and similar experiences can go a long way in combating stigma. Many support groups are offered online, leading to more availability and choice in what you participate in. Island Clinical Counselling offers several online support groups for both youth and adults. Please reach out with any questions about our monthly meetings.

Millions of Canadians will need mental health treatment this year alone, but many will not seek treatment due to the stigma that still exists in this space. By combating these negative stereotypes and reaching out for the help you need, you can do your part in reducing stigma and discrimination while improving your own symptoms and overall health. Please reach out to any of our counsellors for a free 15-minute consultation to start this process.

Written by Cat Zydyk

References:

Mayo Clinic. (2017, May 24). Mental Health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477

Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2013, Feb. 6). Stigma: The Facts. https://mentalhealthcommission.ca/resource/stigma-the-facts/