The Need for Conversations Surrounding Mental Health

Trigger Warning: The following material contains mentions of suicide, self-harm, and depression. If you are triggered by such topics, please proceed at your own risk.

This is the first of a four-part series on social stigma—a term that I would define as the negative connotations and prejudice people may have about an individual or specific group of people. Stigma is not typically vocalized, however, its effects can leave lasting impressions that carry into a person’s adulthood. So, why is it that approximately 1.2 billion children and youth are struggling with mental health, yet the conversation surrounding such issues rarely gets the chance to surface? I asked some of my classmates and fellow youth to define the term mental health. Here is a look at some of the responses I received:

“Mental health is the emotional and mental well-being of a person that can be impacted by trauma, genetics, and environmental factors.”

“I think mental health deals with the struggles someone goes through because of things that negatively impact them. For example, depression is a mental illness.”

“Disorders that people might have after going through something traumatizing in their life.”

As shown above, words like mental illness and disorders are commonly used in media, despite the fact that such labels have the ability to dehumanize and outcast individuals that are facing mental health challenges. Simply being aware of your word choice is a great first step towards becoming more aware of the stigma we may unintentionally project into the world. I chose to focus this piece specifically on depression because it is impossible to touch upon everything mental health encapsulates in a single write-up.

Depression can affect anyone and manifest itself in more than one way; it is so much more than just being sad. For some, there are incessant thoughts of wanting to end it all, for others, harming one’s self may seem like the only viable solution to make the suffering stop. Depression can come and go seasonally or stay for weeks, months, and even years. Its spectrum ranges from mild forms like dysthymia (depression that usually persists for upwards of two years but has milder symptoms that can sometimes come and go in episodes) to more severe cases of clinical depression. In addition to this, anxiety is a common companion to those affected by depression. All of this can significantly impair a person’s ability to function in everyday life, which can ultimately lead to disabling and/or lethal effects. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadian students.

Talking, whether that be with a friend or counsellor, can be very beneficial in helping someone cope with their problems. People underestimate the power and influence words can have. Being there for a person who is in crisis can make the difference between life and death. Instead of saying things like “everything will be okay,” ask them if they want to talk about what they are going through and show them how much you care.

To those reading who are pushing through hard times, know that you are not defined by a list of symptoms. The fact that you are alive today is a testament to your strength. You are not alone, even when it feels that way. Yes, it is cliché, but that is why counsellors and hotlines exist, to help support you. If money and/or disclosure are an issue, there are certain youth clinics that provide services like drop-in counselling and will keep everything you tell them confidential, given you are not in a position that would jeopardize your own or anyone else’s safety.

With a proliferation in youth suicide rates over the past few years, the need for informed conversations surrounding mental health has skyrocketed. It is crucial that youth, in particular, understand what mental health is, so they aware of the things they can do as well as what can be done for them. There are youth support groups you can join to create safe spaces, as well as a plethora of other opportunities to volunteer for mental health organizations. Generating conversation about mental health and getting involved in your community helps create a more inclusive and accepting world for everyone.

 

Written by Michelle Xie
*All views expressed in this blog post belong to the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.

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