Reporter: Ryan Verrydt
About one in every five Canadians will experience mental illness.
More people than that will be affected by it. Mental illness persists through every level and culture of society and affect, directly or indirectly, nearly every person.
Chances are that at home or at work someone you know is struggling with a mental illness.
Yet with all of these people struggling, mental illness has not been recognized by society as real conditions for two main reasons: science and media.
Science has yet to catch up with theory on mental illnesses. In some disorders, such as schizophrenia, science has been able to see changes in the brain. Yet it has not been able to pinpoint what exactly happens to the brain in people with illnesses such as depression, anxiety and ADHD.
This lack of empirical evidence makes it difficult for many people to understand and accept these as serious conditions that have life-threatening implications.
No one can question the influence of the media. Mainstream media does a horrible job of portraying people with mental illnesses. Often they are portrayed as violent, psychopathic, crazy people, even though people with a mental illness are more likely the victim of violence than the perpetrator. Think of characters like Hannibal Lecter or for a real-life example, Vince Li, the man who, in 2008, beheaded Tim McLean aboard a Greyhound bus in Manitoba.
Li was a person with schizophrenia who thought he was saving the world from an alien attack because of voices in his head.
These are the extremes, the statistical outliers, and yet, because they are gruesome and dramatic, society and the media alike eat them up. Do not think these are what people with mental illnesses are like.
It can and is getting better.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall was recently slapped with a $10,500 fine for wearing green shoes because it is a violation of the NFL’s uniform and equipment rules. Marshall, who has been treated for a personality disorder in the past, was trying to promote Mental Illness Awareness Week which ran from Oct. 6-12. He also donated the amount of the fine to charity.
Serena Ryder is another celebrity speaking out about mental health. As someone who struggled with depression for years, she recently shared her experiences about how she overcame her condition while playing a show at the Regent Theatre in Oshawa.
While big names like Marshall and Ryder are going to be instrumental in raising awareness about mental health, big corporations will also play a pivotal role.
Bell Media has really taken an initiative in promoting mental health. By partnering with Clara Hughes and starting the Let’s Talk campaign, they raise millions of dollars every year for mental health awareness. Aside from that, Bell also promotes a Faces of Mental Illness campaign aimed at showing that recovery from mental illness is possible. This campaign uses everyday people from across Canada with interesting and inspiring stories and gives them a platform to speak out.
These are the kinds of acts, and the kind of people, that need to bring attention to mental illness and make it a cause akin to breast cancer and others that receive constant national attention. They show the reach of mental illness and give society a realistic impression of those affected instead of the media’s extremes.
Breast cancer was once a stigmatized, taboo subject and now, is one of the biggest causes out there. The same needs to happen to mental health.