Let’s talk about mental health without adding to the stigma that surrounds it


By: Melissa De Benedetti

It is one of the most common afflictions in our society that transcends all geographical boundaries and economical classes. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and for many, their mental wellbeing is a challenge that is an everyday reality.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, each year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness, equaling approximately seven million people. This gives us an indication of the size and scope of this personal and societal issue that requires all of our help to speak up and support one another during these difficult times.

As Dr. Dorian Lo noted in last month’s Raising Health blog post, an increase in the use of antidepressants to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 and seasonal depression, although concerning, show that more Canadians are in fact seeking help with mental health issues.

Read more: Canadian seasonal depression and COVID depression statistics collide

However, we still have a long road ahead in our quest to overcome stigma, which is a negative attribute or judgement towards certain individuals that differentiate them from the rest of society, around mental health challenges.

Part of inadvertently contributing to the stigma around mental health could include the sharing of images online or in advertisements that make mental illness always look the same. It’s usually images that are dark, cold and sad, with cloudiness and rain always in the forecast and there’s no umbrella in sight. It’s important to consider that one’s mental wellbeing can be positive sometimes but not others. This should also be reflected in the way that we share images of mental health.

The result of stigma can have a harmful impact on the help-seeking behaviours of those in need to access proper care. Studies show that individuals with lower exposure to stigma are better able to seek care, and are more likely to engage and follow their recommended treatment.

This underscores the importance of stopping the stigma around mental health and increasing accessibility to different treatment options. By removing the barriers to treatment, those who struggle with their mental health can leverage several options including medication, psychotherapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and even diet and exercise.

In fact, in over 30 published studies, aerobic exercise such as running, biking and even strength training are associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. Furthermore, MBSR is an 8-week program which delivers intensive training in mindfulness-based practices to help people learn to cope with illness, stress and pain and is found to consistently reduce psychological distress.

It has not always been socially acceptable to talk about our own mental health struggles among our family, friends or colleagues. Even today, our mental health remains a problem or an illness that can be awkward or difficult to disclose to others due to the stigma that still remains, despite our best efforts to reinforce the importance of reaching out for help or through public or private resources for assistance.

In my own journey toward optimal mental health, I have personally overcome symptoms of depression and anxiety with a habitual commitment to selfcare which includes regular psychotherapy sessions, MBSR training, a clean diet free from gluten and dairy, and moderate intensity exercise 3x per week.

Watch: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I worry about my mental health. Can a pharmacist help?

With the eleventh anniversary of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign approaching on January 28, we’re proud to join mental health advocates in calling for an end to the stigma of mental health and to promote a change in behaviour and attitude toward acceptance, respect, and equitable treatment of people with mental health problems and mental illnesses.

This happens by understanding that mental illness is not anyone’s choice and recovery is possible with appropriate treatment and supports. The more stigma can be reduced, the better the outcomes for people and programs promoting mental wellness.

Read more: COVID-19 and mental health: A growing threat to Canadians

We can change our behaviour and attitude so that the stigma around mental health can be significantly reduced. Our family, friends, colleagues, neighbours or any one with mental health problems and mental illnesses must be treated respectfully and equally.

To make this happen requires the collective effort of all us — no matter who or where we are. Together, we can support those who need to speak up so that we break the stigma around mental health.

To get started on your journey toward mental health, simply click the “search” button at the bottom of the page:  https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/find-a-canadian-certified-counsellor/. Express Scripts Canada is proud to share the #BellLetsTalk initiative for Canadians while also supporting our colleagues through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), in addition to other company initiatives.