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Common Yendtse #6 – The Stigma of Mental Health

Every year I, along with many others, especially students, participate in #BellLetsTalk day as a way to raise awareness of the stigma still present around Mental Health, Wellness and Illness in our society.  At Post-Secondary institutions the numbers continue to impress a seriousness which seems often to go unnoticed.  Students are highly at risk of suffering from a mental illness during their course of study and onward into their lives afterward.

According to a 2014 NSSE Major Field Report, twenty-one percent of respondents in first and fourth year at universities in Ontario live with a mental disability and Brock University’s individual statistics are even higher.  The ever increasing demands on students, be they academic, social, financial or otherwise continue to take their toll on our collective mental health.  It therefore stands to reason that now, more than ever, we need to act together to tear down the barriers and stigma associated with mental health and move forward, addressing the issue as a collective.

It continues to baffle me, despite all of this, that I still see and hear acts of prejudice continue against persons living with mental illnesses. Many of us take a bus to get to and from campus every day, and one of the more common occurrences in making the trek by transit is encountering those who are struggling with mental health issues.  Why just this week I was taking a bus back from the terminal and briefly overheard a conversation which is sadly all too common in a system where those that need ongoing support cannot access it.

Given the kind of outpouring of support that #BellLetsTalk receives each year I was understandably shocked to overhear a conversation on the bus shortly thereafter between two students commenting on the individual who had been talking to themselves.  More than mere comments, they were pointed attacks and insults aimed at this person, calling them ‘crazy’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘pathetic’.  I was forced to ask myself, as you should too, “Have the barriers and stigma that people living with mental illness in our society actually been broken down?” the answer is no.

I find it despicable and disgusting that people continue to talk a big game, where a tweet or a message is thought to be enough to incite a change, and yet it seems that this is all a façade.  We tear down the stigma and the negativity for a day, only to build back up the walls a day later and let them stand for another three-hundred and sixty-four days.  Common sense, which would dictate that we as a society were looking for ways to be more inclusive and address implicit issues of this magnitude, appears to be extremely uncommon.

What’s even worse is having the knowledge that these students and their kind of insensitive and offensive comments are not alone.  It is not an isolated incident, or a flash in the pan.  Day in and day out prejudice and judgment continue to flow from the fortunate and onto the backs of those struggling and suffering.  Some of you may have overheard conversations like these, some may even be the source of negative comments and speech, so instead turn the conversation around.  The stigma ends with you, only together can something be done about it.

Not every disability is visible, and someone’s struggle is part of their story.  Society has become the bigger entity and no longer accepts those that poke fun at someone’s physical disability or impairment, so why then does anyone think it is okay to do so if it is invisible? Mental health is not who someone is, it is not a destination but a process.  It is a journey about how you drive and not where you are going.

At the end of the day, people are just people, and deserve to be treated as such.  They are individuals living with mental health issues, but they are an individual, a person first.  The ignorance needed to bypass this fact is astounding and certainly worth a closer look.  Instead of being so quick to judge, perhaps offer a hand to someone less fortunate, give an act of kindness over prejudice and help to make the world a better place. Ours is the generation tasked with eliminating the stigma around mental health, so let’s get on the field and do something about it rather than continue to sit on the bench.

Christopher Yendt

Christopher Yendt

This article was written by Christopher Yendt, a passionate student leader who works hard to address issues of mental health and inequality in the community. Among his many other contributions to the community, Chris has recently joined the board of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Niagara. To see more articles by Chris see www.YourBrock.org/Christopher-Yendt.

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