The days are getting shorter and drearier.
One of my co-workers – I’m not going to say which one, but she’s a recent transplant from Alberta, she works in our editorial department and her name rhymes with “Blocelyn Call” – is constantly remarking on how “grey” or “blah” it is outside these days, to which I respond, in a somewhat off-hand manner, “Better get used to it. It’ll be like this until probably April or May.”
I shouldn’t blow off her (or anyone’s) assessment like that, though.
For some, “get used to it,” isn’t a statement that will be of help – and help is exactly what is needed.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – some call it SAD syndrome – is a real thing.
It’s not just a simple case of having the “winter blues” or being a bit “down in the dumps.”
It’s a mental health illness (like any other form of depression) and we need to take it (and all other forms of depression) more seriously in our society.
“Mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments. When someone breaks their arm, we wouldn’t expect them to just ‘get over it,’” reads “Myth #1” on the Canadian Mental Health Association website. “Nor would we blame them if they needed a cast, sling, or other help in their daily life while they recovered.”
It is also estimated by researchers that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, so why is there still this ridiculous stigma surrounding mental health issues?
Let’s look at some of the other items in the CMHA’s “Myths about mental illness” section.
One of them is that “people don’t recover from mental illness.”
Another is that people with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.
Yet another is that “people who experience mental illnesses are weak and can’t handle stress.”
While none of these things are true in any way, they are obviously ideas that people believe about mental illness, or they wouldn’t be listed as “common myths” by the key organization in our country offering research, advocacy and education in this field.
Because stigmas are, according to Merriam Webster’s definition, “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something,” there is clearly a stigma associated with mental illness.
We need to address this stigma.
We need to make it easier for people to recognize mental health issues in themselves and others so people can get whatever treatment they need to lead productive, healthy lives within our society.
There are mental health resources available for people who need them – not enough of them, but that’s a column for another time – but before people can access those resources, they need to recognize and be able to say they have a problem without feeling they will be looked at the way society currently views people with mental health issues.
Would you want to admit that you have something affecting you that people see as an incurable disability that shows up in weak people who can’t handle stress and makes them violent and dangerous?
I urge everyone to just do some quick research on the subject.
I don’t expect you to go get a degree in psychology, obviously, but even just a quick read on the Internet (maybe start at CMHA.ca) will give you some ways to reframe the idea of mental health within your own mind.
Because reframing how we look at things is how we start to change the world when it needs it.