Mental illness is not a choice, like many other illnesses it's something that you cannot prevent yourself from getting. I am not implying that mental illness is contagious because it absolutely is not but there is nothing you can do prevent the initial onset of symptoms and potential eventual diagnosis. However, you can control the severity of your symptoms and learn what can trigger your symptoms. Recent statistics show that at least one in five of us will have some sort of mental illness over the course of our lifetime. Imagine yourself in a room of 100 people, statistically speaking at least 20 of those people are living with mental illness.
I have been very open with my experience of living with mental illness. I have spoken to several media outlets and even recently hosted a documentary for the Canadian Mental Health Association that you can view here.
In addition to speaking to the media, I try to insert mental illness into conversations I have whether they are with my neighbours, co-workers or customers. I am no expert, but I'd like to think I know a thing or two about mental illness. My goal is to try and bring awareness to the issue and motivate people to educate themselves.
What motivates me to take charge and lead the pack is the amount of stigma I encounter every single day. I don't believe people purposely intend to be ignorant when they ask certain questions about mental illness but to somebody living with mental illness, or someone who lacks understanding of what he's going through, it could come across that way.
For example I remember telling somebody I just had come back from shooting a television appearance about living with depression and she said, "You're 22, what do you have to be depressed about? I'll tell you what's depressing, not knowing if I'll be able to pay my mortgage every month." I explained that is indeed depressing and natural life events can lead you to feeling depressed or anxious however when it comes to mental illness we don't know what leads us to feel this way.
I believe much of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness are the result of a generation gap. After speaking with dozens of people and having a parent with mental illness it is my opinion that there are two different perspectives between the generations. My mom and her friends tell me mental illness was not something that was really talked about and treatment was done in private. But mental illness appears to be something that past generations were ashamed of as well. I still meet people who are afraid to talk about their mental illness because of shame and fear of family, friends and co-workers terminating relationships with them.
Your mental health is your business, however, it can become visible to others. Sometimes you may display symptoms that your mental illness is taking a bit of a toll on you and I advocate for people to have discussions with those that they're closest to so the symptoms can be recognized and people can step in to help.
My hope is that there can come a point when it won't matter that you live with mental illness. But until then the best way to reduce stigma is to talk and educate yourself. For those of you reading this that don't have mental illness I suggest you do some research and have a discussion with friends and family about some facts that you learned that you may not have known before. For those of you living with mental illness continue to research your mental illness, other forms of mental illness, and figure out a way that works best for you so you can talk with others about issues of mental health. Only you will know whether you are comfortable to talk about your mental illness with others but I think all it takes is a bit of risk and some confidence.
The more often we have a discussion, the more we learn, and that in itself will eventually begin to lessen stigma and stereotypes. It will also motivate others to come forward with their stories of living with mental illness which will help others and make the world a better place.
Do your part and help eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness!