Thursday, 23 September 2010

You Can Make a Difference

What comes to mind when you see the word health? For many, it might just mean one’s physical condition. While physical health is part of it, health is not only of the body, but also of the mind. A number of people of people are uninformed, or pay no attention to this equally important side of health. Physical health and mental health go hand-in-hand and it is extremely important to raise awareness for people to take care of their body and their mind.

Statistics and fast facts are often used as eye openers about health and different diseases. How much do you know about mental health? You can check numerous reputable websites with statistics on just how much we are all affected by mental health. Quick fact from the Canadian Mental Health Association website: 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. That’s more than 6 million Canadians – and mental illness is not just some cold that will bother you for just a few days. For some, it could last years and years of their life. People who are unaware and have an undiagnosed mental illness could go on for years without treatment and have their lives adversely affected.

I’d like to talk to you about To Write Love On Her Arms, an organization started by Jamie Tworkowski. Don’t recognize the name? He’s not exactly a celebrity. Jamie is an ordinary guy who turned a passion into something big. Another example is that of the group of 12-year-olds who started what is now known as Free The Children. Ordinary people do extraordinary things everyday. You don’t have to be famous to make a difference, and you don’t have to look far to see ordinary people doing remarkable things. Even in your own community, you can find people who are making a difference.

So what can YOU do? There is still much research to be done to improve the mental health system in our country – and your ideas are important. There aren’t always easy answers to problems, but combining our personal experiences and knowledge can help improve mental health for everyone.

There are endless ways for everyone to help. If we want to change something, we have to start with ourselves. You can take the time to learn more about the issues and share your thoughts. You can help and support projects or events that would also help raise awareness and stigma.

Stigma is a major issue experienced by those suffering from mental illness. People are stigmatized because of the lack of knowledge on mental health. In 2008, the national report card from the Canadian Medical Association stated that 46% of Canadians, almost half, believe that people use mental illness to excuse bad behaviour. It also states that one in four Canadians are afraid to be around people suffering from mental illness. What does this mean for people legitimately suffering from a mental illness?

It may be difficult to change the minds of adults but we must still try. It starts with education. As with abolishing problems such as racism and other kinds of prejudice, educating people at an early age about mental health is one of the most effective ways to reduce stigma.

Youth are also profoundly affected by mental health. It is a time when we’re fragile and undergoing changes and maturity. In a survey for youth with a diagnosed mental disorder, nearly 70% had their onset of symptoms at early ages.

These points all bring me to the most important question: Why should we care? We need to be concerned about the well-being of those affected by mental illness. We mustn’t stray away from this issue and start thinking of these figures and statistics as just numbers. We need to put a face to this problem and think of the people we care about. It could be your parent, sibling or perhaps a friend, who is suffering from mental illness. So, what will you do?

--Karl Yu

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