This is the first part in a series on the topic of mental health.
The 2019-2020 school year began with many students growing impatient with the U of T administration. After another student took their own life at Bahen, students have been actively demanding change in how the university deals with mental health.
Many weeks ago, Sonia Romero Johnson discussed “the case for personal responsibility.” It sparked a conversation, though sadly it was one of anger and frustration.
I was deeply bothered by the criticism this article received. I’m not one to say it wasn’t deserved, but it was quite apparent to me that peoples’ idea of a discussion was to comment blocks of text on how others simply don’t understand, are misinformed, and should just avoid any attempt at expressing their ideas. The silencing of other opinions has become an almost instinctive reaction. This is problematic.
It’s time to address mental health the right way.
And it’s important to note that there is an unfathomable amount to discuss regarding mental health. In fact, the vast majority of people, for example, would not know what it really means to be going through severe forms of depression and anxiety, where experiencing lethargy and paralysis and constantly combatting internal struggles are only the tip of the iceberg. With that, let us not overlook the fact that dealing with depression and anxiety does not immediately entail suicidal thoughts in the same way that schizophrenia does not entail psychopathy.
The reality is that this umbrella term encompasses various levels of concerns and problems, which can affect anyone. What’s important here is that we take steps in ensuring that there are no stigmas or misconceptions surrounding these problems, which as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states, “presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.”
The burden of mental illnesses has been ever growing all over the world and a look at a common illness like depression might help put things into perspective.
According to WHO, depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide, where it may lead to suicide in extreme cases. With an epidemic on the rise, roughly 800,000 people are committing suicide annually.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds, following accidents. In fact, roughly 4,000 15 to 24-year-old Canadians die by suicide each year. Concurrently, it is estimated that 3.2 million 12 to 19-year olds are at risk of developing depression.
Furthermore, CMHA notes that about 49 per cent of people who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never contacted a medical professional.
These are considerably worrying statistics, but more importantly, we need to collectively examine what’s really going on here.
Major depression is an extremely complex disorder, where both genetic and environmental factors can and ultimately do play a role in its development.
Simply, depression is not just an imbalance of chemicals; and a prescription for antidepressants is certainly not a long-term solution.
Here’s the thing: Human beings have needs. Indeed, our physical needs consist of things like food, water, fresh air, and a home. Similarly, we also possess certain psychological needs. For instance, the need for belonging, the need to feel valued, and the need for purpose. I believe we are especially living in a time where we are deprived of such needs. It is this disconnection within ourselves—greatly influenced by society and culture—and consequently the world and people around us, that ultimately contributes to the decay of our mental health. With that, the worst thing we can do is blame ourselves and our “condition” in hopes of improvement. We are not at fault. It is the very absence of physical and psychological needs that lead to imbalances in the first place.
For those of us who struggle deeply, to the point where we are unable to function properly, there is no denying it is not enough to seek chemical help. And for those of us who want to support and help our friends, family, or anyone suffering from mental health problems, it is not enough to talk about depression and suicide as merely concerning statistics. There’s a lot for us to consider and give our attention to. And we mustn’t overlook the various, contributing aspects.
In actively pursuing progression in individual and collective mental health, we need to implement a simple method: Talk about things that actually matter in life.
In this series, I hope to dive deep into the topic of mental health. Hopefully, by the end, we’ll all be the better for it.