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Toronto, Canada

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Why All of Us Need to Care About Mental Health

Written by Rachel Wong

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, and for good reason; millions of people all over the world are affected by mental health issues. And we need to start conversations about it in order to get rid of the stigma.

Getting good grades, making enough money for tuition, and figuring out a life path are just small parts of the long list of reasons why students are incredibly stressed out. Add this to things like trying to look good and having friends—all of it put together can riddle students with anxiety. Even the most lenient, care-free student will still experience some kind of stress during their studies. But the fact is this: school environments are often conducive to stress. Statistics Canada says that “teenagers and young adults aged 15-24 experience the highest incidence of mental disorders of any age group in Canada.” As students, we are largely competitive, anxious, and give a shit about every little thing; of course we’re more more prone to mental disorders.

An increasing number of students struggle with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and eating disorders. The British Columbia Crisis Center cited a report on Adolescent Health that found that “8% of male students and 17% of female students […] reported having thoughts of suicide [in 2014].” And if this doesn’t scare you, let me put this into context: any person in this statistic could be the student sitting next to you in lecture, the president of your Model United Nations club, or even your sibling.

“Teenagers and young adults aged 15-24 experience the highest incidence of mental disorders of any age group in Canada.”

Mental health among students is more serious than we all think, and there are plenty of reasons why.

The Stigma is Heavy

A negative connotation has plagued the phrases “mental health” and “mental illness.” This comes about from stereotypes like “people with mental health problems are dangerous.”

However, stigma can make it incredibly difficult for those with mental illnesses to come forward and seek out treatment—they may feel ashamed or that no one will understand them, and this will invariably worsen their condition. Stigma creates a barrier for open discussion; not only does it push away sufferers of  mental illnesses from getting help, but it dashes our society’s general understanding and empathy.

It Could Affect Your Family and Friends

Since 20% of Canadians will personally experience some form of mental illness at some point in their life, it is very possible that a family member or one of your friends could be suffering and you just don’t know it. Unlike a physical illness, the symptoms of mental illnesses are rarely physical and therefore difficult to detect. Take extra time to listen to your loved ones and watch out for any uncharacteristic behaviour, no matter how small. If you notice red flags or if your loved one opens up about their condition, remember that you can help them get through it and your support could be the very thing that helps them feel at peace.

“Stigma creates a barrier for open discussion.”

It Could Affect Your Relationships

Hard-to-detect symptoms, accompanied by a lack of confidence to talk about these issues, can lead to miscommunications between you and your affected family members or friends. You may start to notice a friend becoming distant, easily irritated, or tired all the time, but they don’t seem to want to talk about it. If that’s the case and you don’t know a thing about their condition, it could become stressful and take a toll on your relationship. However, you must be patient; if that person is truly important to you, it’s worth sticking around. If you feel unqualified to talk to someone about mental illness, don’t worry—that’s what medical professionals are for. As long as you’re open and willing to listen, that should be enough.

Mental Health is Just as Important as Physical Health

A 2014 article in The Guardian compares mental health to physical health. It highlights society’s heavy emphasis on curing physical health as opposed to mental health, with sufferers of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and other diseases often receiving the treatment they need. We wouldn’t ignore getting treatment for these kinds of health problems; rather, we would seek out trusted health care professionals to cure or treat the illness. In the same way, we can’t push mental health to the side, cross our fingers, and hope for it to go away on its own. In order for anyone to function to their full capacity, they need to be healthy physically and mentally.

“We can’t push mental health to the side, cross our fingers, and hope for it to go away on its own.”

The mental health discussion isn’t an easy one to have, but being empathetic of and actively listening to sufferers of mental illness are the best ways to prove that you take the matter seriously, especially when it comes to friends and family. Take the time to show love ones that you care and that you’re right behind them. By having these discussions early, we can not only help each other through these trials but also foster a sense of understanding.

We can lift the stigma around mental illness. We have to. And together, I think it’s about time we actually did.

Feel free to share your stories on mental health in the comments below; talking about it really does make a difference. 

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.