05/05/2013 11:15 EDT | Updated 07/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Why Mental Health Week Is So Important To Me

I feel like every time I open up a newspaper or log onto social media there seems to be another day or week dedicated to the awareness of some important cause in this world. This week is no different. Two of Canada's largest mental health organizations -- The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health and the Canadian Mental Health Association -- have declared May 6-12, 2013 Mental Health Week while Children's Mental Health Ontario has declared this week to be Children's Mental Health Week.

As a mental health advocate you can imagine I wait all year round for Mental Health Week, it's like a mid-year holiday or celebration for me. And while there's a lot to celebrate in terms of how far we have come in terms of support for those with mental illness, we still have a lot of work to do.

I'm sometimes asked why there's still need for an awareness week in order for us to talk about mental illness and how we can improve our own mental well being. My opinion is that this week exists to better educate the public about mental illness. We're over a decade into the new millennium and mental illness is still a taboo topic. On one hand there is still a steady stream of stigma around mental illness, on the other hand we're giving power to those who stigmatize by refusing to talk about mental illness.

I don't mean to pick favourites but Children's Mental Health Week has a very special place in my heart. I was born to a mother with mental illness and when I was nine years old I started feeling intense anxiety that kept me awake at night and even home from school some days. Fast-forward 14 years later and I am one of many success stories of people who can live with mental illness while still being able to live an active and productive life. Children are our leaders of tomorrow and its critical that we are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness to be able treat it so we can give our kids the same opportunities in life that are given to those without mental illness.

According to a Health Canada report on mental illness published in 2002, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The other four will know somebody with mental illness. In an analysis last year from The Conference Board of Canada the amount of lost productivity in the workplace is costing the Canadian economy an estimated $20 Billion per year and that number is estimated to be closer to $30 Billion by 2030.

All levels governments must act now to ensure funding is secured and in fact increased to give people with mental illness a chance and so people don't have to take time off work for a challenge or an illness that is highly treatable.

I encourage everybody to spend a few moments this week educating themselves and learning more about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, by doing so you could help save a life and it could even be your own. For readers struggling with mental illness alone let this week be the week you finally seek help and treatment. And for employers, consider how you can make your workplace more accepting for those with mental illness if you don't already do so.

We can all make a difference when it comes to mental health and mental illness. Let this be the week that you do your part!