Mental Illness Awareness Week, an annual public campaign to acknowledge the reality of mental illness in Canada, is on now from October 3 to 9. The campaign began in 1992 and was led by the Canadian Psychiatric Association. The awareness week is now led by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health with the support of many other organizations.
MIAW is designed to raise awareness about the difficulties of mental illnesses. Few people know about the effects of mental illness and even fewer seek help. The week aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and promote better practices in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses.
“The theme for Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 3 to 9, 2010, is ‘Face Mental Illness’. The campaign literally puts a face to mental illness by highlighting the stories of people, who, despite having a mental illness, have achieved success,” said Sandy Milakovic, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association/Peel Branch. “You can read their stories and see their photographs at www.miaw.ca, each smiling face declaring ‘Recovery is possible’.”
Youth are among the most heavily affected by mental illness. Suicide is the second highest leading cause of death for Canadian youth age 15 to 24 (the first is motor vehicle accidents).
“It’s alarming they [youth] are choosing to take their own life,” said Dr. Amy Cheung, a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in an interview with The Toronto Sun. “If you take all the people who committed suicide in North America, about 50% of them were diagnosed with or had depression.”
A 2009 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey found that 8% of Ottawa students in grades 7 to 12 attempted or seriously thought about suicide the previous year. Of the 1,200 students surveyed, 9% in grades 7 to 8 and 11% in grades 9 to 12 said they suffered from poor mental health.
“[Of] the students who have a mental health issue or illness, the numbers that are actually getting treatment are far less than the ones who are actually walking around with an undiagnosed mental health issue,” said Mike Baine, chair of Ottawa’s Youth Services Bureau, in an interview with Edmonton Sun.
The symptoms of depression include withdrawal from pleasurable activities, irritability, extreme sadness, and thoughts of suicide. It’s important for family and friends to recognize the signs of depression and take preventative measures. “Don’t be too afraid to reach out to someone,” Cheung said in an interview with The Toronto Sun. “It’s important to seek help, and don’t be ashamed, because it’s an illness that’s treatable and preventable and it’s how we can save lives.”
UTM Health and Counselling Centre offers free and confidential individual and group counselling sessions over the phone and in person. A 12-week “Running Through Depression” program is also offered at UTM; it teaches students new strategies for managing feelings of depression, increasing self-esteem, and gaining control over their life. Those interested are asked to email [email protected] for a program list.
For more information about mental illness, programs, and training, students are asked to visit the Canadian Mental Health Association/Peel Branch website at www.cmhapeel.ca. For students who wish to speak to an Information & Referral specialist, a Resource Centre is also available Monday—Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. They can also be contacted by email during the same hours at [email protected]
The CMHA also offers an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training seminar for people interested in learning procedures for immediate suicide prevention. Students can apply online at www.cmhapeel.ca/asist.htm.
For more information about Mental Illness Awareness Week and how to get involved, students are asked to visit www.miaw.ca.