For the past couple of years, we have given our physical health and safety a place in our headlines, policies, and everyday conversations more than we ever have before. For the better part of three years, protecting our physical health and safety—and that of our friends, co-workers, family, and communities—has been a collective effort. And conversations around physical health have become somewhat commonplace, normalized, and routine.
But our physical health isn’t the only aspect of our overall health and well-being that matters—not just now or during the pandemic, but every day.
Our mental health matters, too. And right now, it matters even more.
This season, the last months of one year and the beginning of the next are the “pressure season” for mental health. Family gatherings, expectations, financial pressures, and even winter weather all conspire to increase mental health pressures, and that results in heightened issues and needs. For business leaders, it’s important to know that your people and your partners may be experiencing these effects.
That’s one of the reasons in our recent Define the Decade report, we identified an inspiring moonshot: could Alberta be the leading jurisdiction in Canada for broad population mental health support?
We’ll explore that further in another analysis, but for today, addressing the immediate issue starts by understanding the problem, talking about it, and identifying what we can do about it.
But the truth is it is much more difficult to talk about our mental health, to share our experiences of loneliness, stress, isolation, or anxiety and depression.
It’s difficult because it’s less visible than our physical health.
The World Health Organization found that anxiety and depression around the world increased 25% during the first year of COVID, and more and more Canadians are reporting experiences with both anxiety and depression.
We are undergoing a mental health crisis that mustn’t be ignored or set aside because it affects us all.
Although conversations surrounding mental health and illness are becoming more openly discussed in various parts of the world, they are happening at a slower pace than is necessary to reflect the significance and urgency of the problem. In other words, there are considerable gaps between where we are, where we are going, and where we need to be.
In this Quick Read, we break down the importance of talking about our mental health to reduce stigma and get people the help they need not just to survive but thrive.
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness—What’s the Difference?
Before we dive into the impacts of stigma and mental health, it’s important to recognize the distinction between mental health and mental illness. These two terms are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, so just as we talk about our physical selves being healthy or ill, there are important distinctions when we talk about our mental health.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Institute, mental health refers to a state of overall well-being and how we manage our day-to-day stressors, unprecedented events (often out of our control), feelings of belonging, and especially our relationships with others.
Mental health and mental illness are not dependent variables but rather exist independently of one another. For example, one can experience a mental illness yet also experience positive mental health and vice versa. Understanding this distinction when navigating topics surrounding both mental health and illness is vital to how we open and re-evaluate such conversations.
Mental health and illness continue to be stigmatized topics, and this stigmatization has created far-reaching consequences for each of us, whether directly or indirectly.
Many who experience poor mental health are often discouraged to open up about such issues due to the fear of being judged by their peers, colleagues, and even family. As a result, we see a snowball effect that can increase symptoms over time, often eventually reaching a point where the consequences can be life-threatening.
While we know that mental health nor mental illness do not discriminate, recent statistics show that this stigma and a lack of openness about these issues are worse for men and boys than for women and girls.
Sadly, men account for more than 75 per cent of all suicides across Alberta. Moreover, the Calgary Counselling Centre has identified that a third of male clients who have turned to counselling have done so for concerns that have been ongoing for more than five years. In a recent op-ed with the Calgary Counselling Centre, we noted that “men are much less likely than women to report mental health issues and seek help. They tend to wait until things are incredibly bleak before getting treatment.”
Additionally, individuals in professions often seen as tough, rugged, or highly competitive can also be particularly susceptible—often amongst other exacerbating factors like remote and isolated work, which have increased dramatically over the last three years. These two lenses give us a view of some of the people who may be at higher risk and in need of greater support.
This is a growing crisis, and we must aggressively address it at both the individual and national levels. Reducing stigma and improving mental health is not a one-stop shop, nor is it the responsibility of one organization or policy or one individual. We must work together to support the people around us, and this begins with first supporting ourselves. People must help people, and larger systems must provide the appropriate resources in conjunction.
One of the best things we can do is to encourage positive and open mental health dialogue for the purpose of creating and implementing sustainable and meaningful solutions. Regardless of what needs to be done, what is certain is that it all must start with a conversation. We must normalize conversations about our mental health and our struggles with mental illness—and ensure that our friends, family members, co-workers, employees, and leaders have the social support and help they need.
What can we do?
We must unite and double our efforts on all fronts to focus on mental health and well-being. Some steps to achieve this can be by increasing awareness surrounding these issues, incorporating self-care routines, engaging in open discussions with ourselves and those around us, and seeking out accessible resources to ensure those long-term mental impacts don’t persist longer than needed. It’s never too late to start taking mental health seriously.
Much more work still needs to be done if Alberta is to be the leading jurisdiction in supporting the social acceptance and available treatment of broad population-based mental health. Increasing investment in health and medical care research and development and incorporating policies with a mental health lens in order to improve resources that are accessible for all are necessary steps.
Emotional, psychological, and social well-being are all components of mental health. It influences how we think, feel, act, make decisions, and even our relationships by influencing how we interact with others, including ourselves.
Good health, both physical and mental, are synergistic components necessary for achieving and maintaining a high quality of life, and to tackle the crisis of mental health, we must first begin to work together on normalizing its discussions for ourselves and those around us and to treat mental health as important as we do our physical health.
Strong relationships are the foundation of support, strength, and courage. Opening the conversation, checking in with ourselves and our loved ones, and working to become more empathetic can save a life, including your own.