Mental Illness Awareness Week kicks off this Sunday. From Sept. 6 through the 12th, media, community organizations and health workers will be promoting various initiatives throughout the Sea-to-Sky corridor to raise the profile of mental illness. On TV youíll see an increase in info ads, such as the successful ďDepression Hurts,Ē which highlights both the physical and social pain connected with depression. In the newspapers youíll read some stories. Keep an eye out and your awareness is sure to increase. Why is this important?
Itís important because we all have ó or will have ó someone in our lives who is mentally ill. Maybe itís a schizophrenic cousin, a good friend with a major depressive disorder, or a colleague wracked by OCD symptoms. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five people will experience a period of mental illness in their lives. Anxiety, depression, mood and affective disorders are more common than you think. At any given time 10.4 per cent of Canadians are enduring a mental illness.
Mental illness takes many forms. It can happen to anyone at any time, there arenít always clear reasons why it takes hold, and treatment varies greatly. Sometimes the behaviour that accompanies the illness can be off-putting, frustrating and frightening. The idea of mental illness unhinges a lot of people. Many people find it hard to comprehend that their friend, colleague or family member is still the person they care about, they just get sick sometimes. Unfortunately, that ďsickĒ might express itself as increased irritation, isolation, detachment, disassociation or acting out ó behaviours that most of us find uncomfortable. Mental illnesses often work hard to ensure that anyone who can help really feels unwelcome at the table. This is why itís important to learn to look beyond the illness and see the person.
Itís crucial that people living with mental illnesses have a compassionate and aware support system. Friends and family are important members of those support systems and can be most effective when they make the effort to be well informed.
Mental illness sucks. I speak from experience. I have been managing a mood disorder for longer than I care to remember. Finally properly diagnosed in my early 40s as having bipolar disorder, my stability now must rank in the 98th percentile. I am completely compliant with my medications because I have pretty vivid memories of what life can be like without them. I pick up the warning signs of mood changes quicker than I used to, recognize potential situations that could fuel an episode such as too many social events, stressful interactions and failing to get enough sleep. I also try to listen to those closest to me.
Often itís my well-informed, reasonable and compassionate spouse who will comment if she feels a shift in mood is on the horizon. If I instantly and adamantly deny her observation, I can pretty much ensure Iíll realize sheís right within 10 minutes. Sheís got a Cindy-crazy-gauge and itís 99 and 44/100ths accurate. So why argue at all? Itís just another symptom.
Effectively managing mental illness often requires adopting regimens that can make your life seem, well, pretty regimented. The trade-off: a life defined more by mental wellness than mental illness.
It isnít always easy getting through to someone who is experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, but itís possible. Untreated mental illness causes great psychological stress, not just for the sufferer, but also for the people around them: colleagues, friends, partners and other family members. Letís use Mental Illness Awareness Week to learn more, increase our understanding and break down the stigma that surrounds these treatable illnesses.