Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate

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This blog post was provided by Susan Chamberlain, M.S.W.,R.S.W., Executive Director at The George Hull Centre for Children and Families.

When people talk about their health, they’re often referring only to their physical health—but mental health is equally as important.

The health of your mental state affects how you think, feel and behave. It affects you in all stages of your life, from birth through adulthood. And it affects you in every aspect of your day-to-day living.

When our mental health becomes compromised, it can prevent us from coping, engaging in life, and realizing our full potential. It affects our relationships, family life, and productivity, which in turn impacts our communities, economies, and society as a whole.

But just as there are many physical illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, or colitis, there are many mental illnesses. Some may experience the constant worry, fear and debilitating effects of anxiety or panic attacks, while others may endure the extreme lows of depression. Some may suffer the life altering effects of an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or a trauma disorder, and others could live with schizophrenia or psychosis, to name just a few. Like some physical illness, some mental illnesses are mild, but others can be much more severe. Be it anxiety or diabetes, professional treatment is usually needed and although there isn’t a perfect cure, there is hope.

Mental Illness Affects Everyone

Mental illness does not discriminate—it affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. While people of all socio-economic and education levels are vulnerable, poverty is a particularly exacerbating factor. When people struggle with poverty, their quality of life is compromised. The hardships and stress they experience often puts them at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and an acute need for mental health services.

When people experience mental health issues, they may have challenges focusing at school, parenting and managing family life, finding a good job, or earning sufficient income; it may be difficult to find housing and they may experience discrimination and negative attitudes. This can lead to isolation and an inability to lead a healthy and productive life.

Here in Canada, one in five people—both adults and children—experience mental illness. Mental illness prevents nearly 500,000 employed Canadians from attending work each week.1 The economic impact of mental health disorders in Canada is estimated to cost a staggering $51 billion per year.2 Over 4,000 Canadians die by suicide every year, an average of 11 people per day.3 Tragically, suicide is the second highest cause of death in Canada for children and teens aged 10 to 24 – a reminder that youth mental health is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

When we fail to intervene when children are exhibiting signs of mental illness, the damaging consequences are far reaching, and can be long-term into adulthood.

Approximately 70 percent of adults with mental illness started experiencing issues in childhood.5 For some children and youth, mental health challenges can make life so difficult that they cannot experience any joy. Talents, skills and potential are submerged by feelings of sadness, anger and hopelessness. This holds them back from the happy, fulfilling lives they deserve and often begins a downward spiral with tragic personal and societal consequences. They avoid school, don’t engage with their friends, drop out of extracurricular activities and sports, or remain silent at the family dinner table.

Left untreated, children’s mental health issues often become more complex and difficult to overcome. When children and youth don’t receive the help they need, they can turn to isolation, self-harm, acting out, drugs and suicide.

Treatment Changed Sacha’s Life Trajectory

As a young woman, suffering from anxiety and depression caused by years of neglect and trauma, Sacha’s* life changed when she sought treatment to address her illnesses. Sacha grew up in a family where mental health issues, abuse and violence were prevalent. She did not talk to her friends, her parents or her school counsellor about her feelings. She solely relied on herself to cope. Sacha experienced flashbacks and could not sleep at night, often waking panicked and crying. She struggled at school and fell behind, causing her more stress. To cope, she turned to self-harm and also attempted a drug overdose.

Eventually, her journey lead her to The George Hull Centre for Children and Families where she received one-on-one treatment sessions with a therapist specially trained in trauma. Her treatment included trauma-focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help her develop healthy coping strategies and to build the foundation to move her life forward. Sacha has just turned 19, a milestone she did not think she would reach, “I thought life would get the best of me and I wouldn’t live to see this day.” She has now completed her first year of university and hopes to become a teacher or lawyer.

Sacha’s story highlights that mental health issues can be diagnosed and treated, especially if they are addressed early on. Research has proven that early intervention is critical to providing a hopeful and healthy future for children and youth struggling with mental health.

That’s what makes the work at children’s mental health centres like The George Hull Centre for Children and Families so critical. Early intervention can change the trajectory of a child’s life at a critical juncture and help prevent their suffering from continuing into adulthood. And that’s good not just for the child, but also the family, school, community and society as a whole.

To learn more about The George Hull Centre for Children and Families, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page.

*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality and privacy.

 

 

 


Sources

  1. Dewa, Chau, and Dermer (2010). Examining the comparative incidence and costs of physical and mental health-related disabilities in an employed population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52: 758-62. Number of disability cases calculated using Statistics Canada employment data, retrieved from http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/labor21a-eng.htm.Institute of Health Economics (2007). Mental health economics statistics in your pocket. Edmonton: IHE. Number of absent workers calculated using Statistics Canada work absence rates, retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/71-211-x/71-211-x2011000-eng.pdf.
  2. Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica.Lim et al. (2008). A new population-based measure of the burden of mental illness in Canada. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 28: 92-8.
  3. Statistics Canada (2018). Deaths and age-specific mortality rates, by selected grouped causes, Canada, 2016.  Table: 13-10-0392-01
  4. Statistics Canada (2018). Deaths and age-specific mortality rates, by selected grouped causes, Canada, 2016.  Table: 13-10-0392-01
  5. Government of Canada (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
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