Despite notable advances being made in the conversation on mental illness, the stigma surrounding it still exists. Whether it’s diminishing the importance of mental health, shutting down people who attempt to vocalize their struggles, or the depiction of mentally ill people as dangerous or unpredictable, the negative implications are still prevalent.
The trivialization and stereotyping of those who suffer from a mental illness continues to contribute to the development of the stigma. Such stigmas may lead to bullying, ostracization, unemployment, and the denial of vital services such as housing. It also makes it increasingly difficult for those who struggle with mental health to express that and seek help.
Although the stigma is prominent in Canadian society and globally, statistics on mental health within Canada are quite staggering. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one in five Canadians suffers from an addiction or mental health problem during any given year. Additionally, people aged 15-24 are the most likely to struggle with mental health or substance abuse as compared to other age groups. Moreover, nearly 4,000 Canadians commit suicide annually.
Recently, famed musician Kid Cudi publicly announced that he was checking himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. Fans commented with their support and urged those who are struggling with their mental health to seek help. But it was interesting to see that Kid Cudi’s public expression of his struggle encouraged others to come out and share their stories. More specifically, he opened the door for men to talk about their mental health, which is a group whose mental wellness seems to be neglected due to rigid stereotypes of masculinity. The rise of the hashtag #yougoodman consisted of contributions to the conversation on mental health, race, and masculinity.
In terms of resources available at UTM, the Health and Counselling Centre offers short-term professional counselling services, in addition to referrals if long-term care is deemed necessary. Other organizations, such as the SEC, UTM Peer 2 Peer, the AccessAbility Resource Centre, and Campus Police are also available for advice or guidance.
According to their Facebook group, UTM Peer 2 Peer is a group aiming to help students participate in weekly one-on-one sessions with trained peer leaders where they can discuss any issues they are facing. Every week, they hold a mental health positive space on campus to raise awareness of mental health issues. The group aims to actively work towards lessening incidents regarding mental health, and alleviating the struggles of those who experience a mental illness.
Allison Gomes, UTM Peer 2 Peer’s president, stated that the “biggest barrier [that students with mental illnesses] face is how others would perceive them […] For some reason, there’s such a stigma around mental health, and we need to start shaking it off; but the key thing for students who want to speak up is that you’re not alone […]. Realizing something is not right and wanting to change it is a huge step in the right direction.” Gomes said the best advice that she could provide was to “talk to others, whether it’s a friend or a counsellor […]—to find yourself support. It is a hard thing to do initially, because a lot of the time, one feels very lost and alone when dealing with mental health.”
A UTM student, who asked to remain anonymous, shared her experience with mental health. Regarding the overused statement, “It gets better,” the student stated, “If I had a dollar for the amount of times I heard that during my ongoing battle with depression, I could pay off my tuition. I didn’t believe it would ever get better. I had two of my closest friends commit suicide, and a terrible home life.
“Before I knew it, I started skipping class and withdrawing into myself; I wanted my life to end. I kept it all in, and as my grades slipped and social life began to suffer, I nearly did end it. And that scared me. I decided it wasn’t fair on my friends to be kept in the dark about my feelings, as I often appeared upset, so I ended up telling them. And that was the best thing I did. It saved my life,” she said. “Of course, it wasn’t an overnight thing where my depression magically disappeared. It’s been a constant rollercoaster of emotions. But I am a work in progress. I know I can become better.”
UTM student and advocate for mental health issues, Maika Seki, a fourth-year biology specialist, talked about her own struggles with mental health. “I have definitely been in a place where I felt ashamed and embarrassed about talking about my anxiety,” she said. “It took me a while to come out to my friends and family, but it gets easier with every person that you tell, and I learned that people will oftentimes surprise you.”
She also discussed the benefits of talking to someone about your mental health. “Letting people know what I deal with has allowed me to maintain more honest relationships, and this line of communication and trust is especially important when I need their support most.”
When asked for advice, Seki said, “If you feel hesitant about speaking about your mental health because you fear an insensitive response, ask yourself if these are people who contribute positively to your well-being. I have learned that the best people in your life will love, accept, and support you unconditionally, and they will be glad that you told them.”
There is a need for society to shift its views on how mental health is perceived and addressed. Mental health is something that everybody struggles with at some point, and there’s no shame in reaching out for help.