One in five youth will experience mental health illnesses during their lifetime, of which, only 18 – 34% will seek treatment. (Gulliver, 2010). This statistic is troubling for two reasons. First, it identifies the fact that the majority of youth suffering from mental health illnesses are not receiving the treatment they need. Second, it leads one to believe that the services provided are insufficient for the needs of these youth. Compared with those suffering from mental health illnesses, individuals seeking treatment for physical issues can access a greater number of service types. Mental health disorders do not receive the same attention; in fact, they receive much less. Our society does not do enough to protect and care for young people experiencing the effects of mental health disorders. This creates high risks for those affected. Diseases associated with mental health include depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and acute anxiety, etc. These various diseases have the potential to be extremely dangerous and need to address the same level of seriousness as a physical injury.
Mental health literacy is “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid
in recognition, management or prevention”(Jorm, 2012). Being mentally literate means being able to seek help as an individual as well as understanding and accepting people dealing with mental health conditions. The term has a short but impactful history and was established to help us better identify and manage mental health disorders. Mental health literacy has proven its success by improving awareness about individual’s struggling with mental diseases.
When discussing his term mental health literacy, Jorm states his position as being rooted in addressing the stigma surrounding mental health (2012). This powerful stigma acts as a barrier to treatment for youth and creates a vicious cycle which contributes more to the stigma itself. These stigmatized attitudes create misconceptions regarding mental health and affect all other aspects of a young person’s life.
During adolescence, social acceptance is a vital component of how a young person perceives him/herself. Mental health disorders come with negative stereotypes such as weird, dangerous, and violent, due to public stigmatizing attitudes. Because of this a young person may feel as though their self-worth is diminished when struggling with their mental state. Believing their self-worth is diminished falls under the category of self-stigmatization. Self- stigmatization is when an individual internalizes false public opinion, these opinions can consist of not being normal, or broken (Corrigan and Watson, 2002). When self-stigmatization takes place, an adolescent will experience a drop in self-esteem and feel ashamed or embarrassed about their disorder. They will fear not fitting into the norm and will be hesitant to discuss their mental health, leaving their disorder untreated. (Corrigan and Watson, 2002).
Untreated mental health illnesses can lead to suicide, which is among the leading causes of death for Canadians aged 15-25. In 2009, for youth aged 15-20, suicide accounted for 24% of all male deaths and 21% of all female deaths.. From the ages of 21-25, suicide accounted for 23% of all male deaths and 22% of all female deaths. (Statistics Canada, 2009).
How do we as a society solve this widespread epidemic? Jorm believe the solution lies in an improved education about the subject matter. (2012). The public must take action and accept full responsibility for ending the stigma and educating youth about the importance of maintaining their own mental health. Our first step in achieving this goal requires society to improve its mental health literacy and squash stigmas.
The National Alliance on Mental Health discusses nine ways in which we can gain knowledge and fight mental health stigma (2017). The first is talking openly about mental health. Speaking honestly about mental health struggles show how common they are. Sharing struggles breaks the meaning behind a normal conventional identity (Greenstein, 2017). Next, educate yourself and others. To create more widespread awareness, learning experiences have to take place. The opportunity to explore an unknown subject defines misunderstandings and breaks stigmas (Greenstein, 2017). Being conscious of language means not arbitrarily using mental health diseases as adjectives. This tactic reminds us that language matters, and that the language we use in our everyday lives has significant meaning behind it. (Greenstein, 2017). As stated earlier in my post, creating and encouraging equality between physical and mental illness is crucial to bringing mental health issues to the forefront. In our society, it is wrong to make fun of someone struggling with something such as heart disease; the same standards should apply to those suffering from mental health illnesses. (Greenstein, 2017). It is important to show compassion for those who struggle with mental illnesses. Being compassionate creates a safe space; in other words, a ‘you can come to me’ space, which youth currently have a hard time finding (Greenstein, 2017). We must empower those individuals who are struggling rather than shame them. It is essential to recognize that youth experience significant stress without having to deal with the symptoms of mental illnesses. (Greenstein, 2017).
For individuals coping with mental health, it is critical to be honest about it. Barriers cannot be broken until honest and open discussions occur (Greenstein, 2017). At times mainstream media can poorly represent individuals who struggle with mental illness. When this occurs, we create false realities from what we see. We must take the initiative and address this issue head on, by writing to broadcasters and informing them when they’ve presented disorders improperly (Greenstein, 2017). Lastly, we cannot harbor self-stigma. “I fight stigma by not having stigma for myself” (Greenstein, 2017). Confronting and then breaking the stigma is what we need to do as a society.
Although treatments for mental disorders in young people has improved substantially in the past two decades, we still have a long way to go. We must remember mental illness is not a self-induced disease but a biological one. We must end the stigma and circulate knowledge collectively to make more of an inclusive space for individuals struggling. We must recognize the complete, physical, and mental, health care needs of our youth. We must follow the simple steps discussed above and finally, we must become a mental health literate society.
For more information, please visit:
Greenstien, L. (2017). 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2017/9-Ways-to-Fight-Mental-Health-Stigma
Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 10(1). doi: 10.1186/1471-244x-10-113
Jorm, A. (2012). Mental health literacy: Empowering the community to take action for better mental health. American Psychologist, 67(3), 231-243. doi: 10.1037/a0025957
PATRICK W CORRIGAN, A. (2018). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/
Suicide rates: An overview. (2018). Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm