I have terrible vision. Without my glasses I cannot recognize if you are smiling or frowning at me. If I try driving a car without my glasses, I would cause an accident! I wear eyeglasses because I need them to see, and I am willing to admit it!

Why is it that so many people are willing to get help when they recognize that something is wrong with their eyesight, and yet refuse to get help with many issues dealing with how they see life! Looking at life filtered through a lens of depression or schizophrenia or another mental illness is challenging enough, but if that challenging situation or that mental health issue is not dealt with, it is like walking around bumping into things that we otherwise would see if we had only put on our eyeglasses.Why are we afraid to tell someone that we are depressed or anxious or obsessed or afraid? Why do we not even want to ask for help for our situation? Why do we not want to deal with mental health issues?

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."- Bill Clinton

"When someone appears to be different than us, we may view him or her in a negative stereotyped manner. People who have identities that society values negatively are said to be stigmatized. Stigma is a reality for people with a mental illness, and they report how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life. Society feels uncomfortable about mental illness.... Due to inaccuracies and misunderstandings, people have been led to believe that an individual with a mental illness has a weak character or is inevitably dangerous.

Mental illness can be called the invisible illness. Often the only way to know whether someone has been diagnosed with a mental illness is if they tell you. The majority of the public is unaware of how many mentally ill people they know and encounter every day." -www.mindyourmind.ca

Mental illness can affect any person of any age, at any level of education, and in any type of job. In Ontario, one out of five people will experience a mental illness sometime during their lifetime.

Because of stigma, fear and rejection are often common reactions to a person diagnosed with a mental illness. Due to stigma associated with mental illness, many people lose their self-esteem and have a difficult time with friendships. "The stigma attached to mental illness is so pervasive that people who suspect that they might be mentally ill are unwilling to seek help for fear of what others may think. Spouses may be reluctant to define their partners as mentally ill, while families may delay seeking help for their child because of their fears and shame." - www.mindyourmind.ca

So, why is there stigma associated with mental illness? We just have to look around us at our society. Stereotypes surround us in movies, television and the media regarding how the mentally ill are represented. Often the mentally ill are depicted in movies as "psychos". If there is news coverage about the mentally ill, it is more sensational to report when there is a link to violence. Look objectively at our choice of words in our conversations, in our joke-telling and in our description of others who are different than ourselves. We casually use the words, crazy or lunatic without thinking about what we are saying or how we are saying it. Part of the problem of stigma in our society is the media and society in general, but part of the problem is also you and me.

So, how can we erase stigma? Knowing the facts certainly helps. Ignorance of the facts can easily lead to fear which can contribute to prejudice and stigma. It is important to know that there is no particular way to develop mental illness. For some, genetics is a factor. Chemical imbalance in the brain can contribute to some mental illness. For others, environment is a cause of mental illness, and still for others, it is a combination of genetics, how we were raised, and whether or not we have experienced trauma, abuse, neglect, or loss.

"Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are still feared and misunderstood by many people, but the fear will disappear as people learn more about them. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, there is good news: all mental illnesses can be treated." -Canadian Mental Health Association

Over the next little while, we will be dealing with other mental health topics every other month, such as depression, phobias, and more.

For more information, see:

You may also click on the video below to view public service announcements on mental health topics:

See below for contact information for the local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association:

Canadian Mental Health Association - Brant County Branch
44 King Street, Suite 203
Brantford, ON, N3T 3C7
519-752-2998, ext. 112

Philip A. Smith, B.Sc.Phm.