editorial: The illness that we look away from
KJ Mullins-Toronto: On the streets of Toronto they walk and we look away. The flailing arms, the conversations with people that aren’t in our vision, the loud screams that make us jump. These are the visible mentally ill, the ones we call crazy. Why do we look away?
Perhaps we put our blinders on because if we look hard enough we see Uncle Jim, our mom, our son, ourselves. One in 5 Canadians will face mental illness in their lifetime. The rest of us will have witnessed someone close to them struggling with an illness.
We don’t want to admit that mental illness is really there. Only 50 percent of Canadians will admit to those close to them that a family member is mentally ill. If that same family member had cancer or another illness it would be alright to talk about it.
Most of those with mental illness started having issues when they were just kids or teens. It’s a lifetime struggle in a nation that doesn’t have enough psychiatrists to go around. In Ontario 71 percent of family doctors say the access to a psychiatrist is fair to poor.
We shy away from admitting that if we drink too much or use drugs that we have a mental health issue. When the winter bears down and we get blue it’s not depression it’s just a bad day. When we see a kid acting out they are just being a brat, we don’t wonder if they are facing something deeper in their lives.
We look at the visible mentally ill, the ones that are living on the streets or screaming out on the street car as the minority. In reality those with mental illness are close to the majority, but the others hide their issues away crying in the dark. According to WHO by 2020 depression will be the biggest medical burden in health care.
It’s time we break down the barriers and stigma when it comes to mental health. We need more professionals to turn to, more money available and less putting our heads in the sand to combat a disease that is the number one cause of disability in Canada.
Instead of hiding away our illnesses we have to be able to say, “Yes I have depression and I am getting treatment for that” without fear of losing our jobs and friends.
We have to look at our own lives and be able to admit that we have an addiction problem or another form of mental illness and be able to advocate for ourselves better treatment.
It took decades for people to not look away from cancer and HIV. Today we openly campaign for research dollars to battle those diseases and it has saved lives. Those with mental illness shouldn’t have to wait another decade or more for those same research dollars. We can’t afford to wait.
So I will stand up and publicly say I have addiction issues and I am addicted to cigarettes. I have been clean and mostly sober since I was 19. I am now 49. Addiction is a mental health issue. I have nothing to be ashamed about.