Important Things You Need To Know About: Breaking the Stigma

Important Things You Need To Know About:
Breaking the Stigma

By Alex Lorimer-Carlin, EPC Student Intern

Winters in Canada are tough, but we’re almost through the worst of it now! With the spring, we’re looking ahead to a bright and warm few months, with much on the horizon. Notably, mental health week in Canada (https://mentalhealthweek.ca/) is coming up from May 4th to 10th, so to begin preparing, this month’s blog post is going to focus on how to talk about mental health, and breaking the stigma around it. Companies, corporations and even universities have timeframes set aside for their own mental health awareness (Like Bell Let’s Talk day), but one day or week a year isn’t enough for those who need support; It takes talking about year-round. The following are a few steps toward becoming a wider network of mental health supporters and advocates.

Familiarize yourself with the lingo

Stigma makes it difficult for those who have mental health issues to come forward, fearing ridicule or judgement, and most of all, not being understood. So often, we struggle because we worry we are crazy, or not normal, or someone will judge us because of our mental health. Learning how to talk about it with friends, family, work, and larger communities’ helps to challenge the myths of mental health and break the stigma.

A good first step is to familiarize yourself with some common jargon in the field; The Australian mental health program, ‘Way Ahead’, created a basic list of language commonly used. Check it out here: https://wayahead.org.au/get-the-facts/mental-health-jargon/

Know what to look for

When those around us struggle with mental health issues, it’s not always apparent. Even the person who smiles 24/7 can have something going on beneath the surface. The American Psychiatric Association put out a list of warning signs. These changes in behaviour often start small and grow over time, but are important to note and either ask a friend about, or talk to someone else about.

Some common warning signs are:

  • sleep or appetite changes
  • mood swings (changes in mood feeling sad, anxious etc.)
  • irritability
  • apathy (having no desire for anything)
  • changes in abilities to concentrate, focus, and remember things
  • social isolation (withdrawing from others)
  • bizarre, out of the ordinary behaviour (hearing voices, losing time, sense of unreality)
  • talk about no point in life or not wanting to be here or the world being better without me

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness

There’s never a bad time

If you’re worried for yourself or somebody else, there’s never a bad time to ask if they’re okay, or ask for help yourself. Mental health impacts every aspect of our lives and overall health and wellness. Ignoring an underlying issue or hoping it will go away on its own often makes it worse. No matter what’s going on in life, your overall health, including mental health is important and requires attention and care. Reach out as soon as you think there may be something happening, and try to take care of the problem, yourself, or your loved one.

Once the barrier is broken

If others around you know that you’re comfortable discussing mental health, they will likely be more inclined to come to you if they need support, or to be pointed to the right resources. Being open can help increase awareness amongst those around you, and will make it easier for you to reach out in the event that you need help yourself.

Don’t be afraid

Stigma, cultural norms, and the fear of judgement can make it difficult for those suffering to come forward. As time moves forward, mental health issues are becoming more acceptable to discuss in public places, like politics or professional sports, and more people are asking for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out; It may feel like you’re alone in this, but you’re not. Many others have similar issues, and just having somebody who understands makes it easier than going alone.

Mental health issues presents differently in everybody, but if you’re worried for yourself (or others), always reach out and check in. The first step is always breaking the stigma and talking about the problem. If you (or anyone you know) is in crisis in the Montreal area, here’s a list of crisis hotline numbers provided by Ami-Quebec; https://amiquebec.org/crisis/

Talking about mental health will help make us stronger as a society. Help build your local village and provide support to you and yours; You could be saving a life.