This is the latest in a contributor column by Zoe Lauckner. Check back next issue for the latest in Mental Health issues.
Last issue’s column talked about stigma—what it is, why it happens, and how it affects those who are experiencing mental health issues. The thing is, we can talk all we want about stigma and why it is damaging to individuals and society at large, but just talking about it is not going to extinguish it. The most important thing you can do to rid our society of stigma around mental health issues is getting involved. This is a common mantra for many mental health agencies, yet even for someone actively seeking ways to get involved in mental health education, the options fall short. There exists some amazing workshops that focus on specific issues, such as suicide intervention, eating disorders, and mental health first aid, but often these courses cost a lot of money. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can get involved here in Nanaimo and further your awareness around mental health issues, free of charge.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a number of resources available to the general public on mental health education, including local mental health resources, crisis information, personal stories from people with mental illnesses, and general information regarding mental health issues. You can visit their website at <mid-island.cmha.bc.ca/get-informed>. The website is host to a wealth of information about mental health issues, and one area you might find particularly interesting is their “public issues” section, which outlines a number of issues associated with mental health: sexual abuse, finding housing, substance abuse, violence, and employment. Reading through this information will give you a better idea of what it is like for folks who suffer from mental health issues, and, in turn, has the potential to shift some preconceived beliefs about mental illness. By reading this kind of information, you are placing yourself in a more educated stance where you’ll be better able to combat stigma head on.
Be an advocate for those suffering from mental illness. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced or don’t have a personal connection to mental illness— you can still advocate for compassion and humanity when it comes to the way society views mental health disorders. This can be done in a number of ways, and it’s important to think about an area where you can have the most impact. Consider your friend group: Do you often find your friends (or yourself) saying things like, “that’s crazy!” or, “you’re insane!”? Confronting the use of language is one step in the right direction; turns of phrase like this might seem harmless, but to someone who lives with the stigma of mental illness, these terms work to perpetuate stigma even further and normalize it within our culture. Language matters, and unfortunately a lot of stigmatizing language has become ingrained in our culture.
I encourage people to get involved and share some of their time to work with folks who experience mental health-related issues. Getting to know people first hand who experience these issues is the best stigma buster there is. There are a number of volunteer opportunities available here in Nanaimo, including working with the Haven Society, the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, and the Nanaimo Family Life Association, all whom offer training free of charge. These services provide a great deal to the community and deserve all the help they can get.
Just as a little side note, VIU is hosting a workshop on December 8 entitled Childhood Anxiety – Empowering Strategies and Effective Support. This workshop is aimed at providing parents, youth workers, and educators the information and skills necessary to support children and teens who experience anxiety. The workshop costs $45 and you can register online.
Exam time is upon us and I wish you all the best. Take care of yourselves over the holidays, and I’ll be returning to write this column come January. Stay sane(ish), VIU! Until next time…