Shallow, patronizing, and at times deeply irritating — not the words you may expect to describe campaigns like Mental Illness Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day. On Twitter, this is the tone from several who are fighting in the trenches, people worldwide who are experiencing mental illness in their own lives. I’ve been there, I too, have lived experience. I’ve been the face of a mental health awareness campaign. After seeing this work on both sides, I don’t disagree with this growing perspective within the lived experience community.
“More than words, action is needed for Mental Illness Awareness Week” — Mental Health Commission of Canada
This is the crux of the matter, words vs. actions. Words improve health literacy, yet action is desperately needed to support those experiencing the hardship of illness today. These campaigns aren’t for the well aware or those fighting a daily battle. If you find yourself apathetic this week, that’s okay. It could be because you’re well informed. Rather than seeking answers in awareness headlines, advocate and help others to understand the gaps in need of action. Change takes time, but actions are happening. Here are three areas we’re happy to see change taking place:
Our workplaces need to be safe both physically and mentally. “Mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace. 51% of workers say they are at least somewhat comfortable discussing mental health openly” — American Psychiatric Association. One recommendation for employers is to adopt a robust employee assistance plan. In employee benefits, we love what League is doing.
Counsellors are a significant provider of mental health care across North America. Yet regulation in this field has been slow in Canada. The Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta is taking action. New legislation will allow the formation of the College of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (CCTA), and other Provinces are expected to follow quickly. For the public, this will mean a greater right to a safe, competent, and ethical health care. Furthermore, we believe this to be a necessary stepping stone to greater inclusion of counsellors within publicly funded healthcare.
Stigma related to people struggling with mental illness is still prevalent, but public opinion is improving. The barriers to accessing care are being reduced. Digital health solutions are providing greater access to health literacy and health data allowing people to make more informed decisions relating to their mental health. The truth is we all play a role, and you don’t need to be a healthcare professional, entrepreneur, or manager to make a difference. It’s Thanksgiving this weekend in Canada, and I’m grateful for the many time’s friends and family were there for me when I struggled in my recovery. Having someone nearby who could be with me made a huge difference. You don’t need a degree to talk, start with hello, and give time to go beyond “I’m fine.” This weekend and in the months that follow, take time to connect with those around you. No matter where you are, you are not alone. Canadian, Red Green said it best, “Remember, I’m pullin’ for ya! We’re all in this together!”
Aidan Scott is Co-Founder of Speakbox. After experiencing several challenges attempting to access care after being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by childhood trauma. Aidan's experience, reinforced by his experiences working in the public health sector has inspired him to seek out new ways to reduce barriers and improve access to mental health care using technology.