Updated: Oct 14, 2020
October 10, 2020
To readers, this may sound like a broken record, but this year has disrupted our way of life in unprecedented ways, presenting roadblocks in just about every context imaginable. The prevailing Covid-19 crisis dawned on us in an already dire mental health landscape, and has contributed to a spike in mental health cases globally. For this reason, this year’s World Mental Health Day arrives at a crucial time. Healthcare workers have been labouring under harsh conditions, students and teachers are struggling to adapt to virtual learning, and many are fearful of leaving their house. COVID-19 has added novel ambiguity to our lives, and has been a disaster for people with preexisting mental illnesses. When asked how their mental health changed since social distancing was put in place, 52% indicated that their mental health had worsened.
World Mental Health Day is a day where we aim our attention towards the specific actions that support our mental health, our loved ones in finding care, and a chance to celebrate the people who are working hard to make quality mental health care a reality world-wide. With today being the 28th celebration of World Mental Health Day, Zen Maker Lab would like to take the opportunity to shine light on some of the facts regarding this topic, the ground made in recent years, as well as this year's theme: increased investment, and why it is important.
A mental illness is an ailment of the brain which impacts changes in emotion, thinking, or behaviour, and more often than not leads to difficulty functioning in social or professional environments. Anyone you talk to will probably tell you that they have dealt with their share of mental health issues, and if not, it is doubtless they know someone who has. In a given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, and in 2019, around 2.5 million Canadians stated having a fair or poor state of mental health. Perceived mental health can provide a general indication of the population tormented by some form of mental disorder or distress not necessarily reflected in perceived health.
Although public perception of mental illness has improved in the past decade or so, studies illustrate that stigma against mental disorders are still powerful, largely due to stereotypes and lack of education. Likewise, people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions at a far higher rate than other diseases and disabilities like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 5.3 million Canadians mentioned they required aid for their mental health (2018), and almost half communicated that these needs were either unmet entirely or only partially met. Furthermore, The World Health Organization (WHO) states that every 40 seconds someone dies from suicide.
The most frequently reported reasons for having unmet or partially met needs are related to, being too busy, being unaware of where to go, or for economic reasons. Of these respondents, 22.6% said that they preferred to manage their needs on their own. With nearly 90% of people suffering from mental health problems stating that stigma and discrimination have a negatively impacted their lives, it’s reasonable to assume why.
The economic consequences of this pandemic have already been felt, as many companies have let staff go in an effort to save their businesses, or conversely shut down. Events like these cause financial strain on both individuals and their families, and subsequently lead to higher levels of anxiety. A crowdsourcing survey by Statistics Canada revealed that 43% of participants experiencing difficulty meeting financial obligations reported symptoms that were consistent with moderate or severe anxiety. In contrast, those experiencing little to no financial impact reported a mere 18%.
Prior to this crisis, the economic burden of mental illness in Canada was estimated at $51 billion per year. This measure includes health care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life. In a way, this pandemic acts as a double-edged sword, weakening an economy already negatively affected by mental illness, in turn leading to more disorder among our workforce.
In growing cognizant of the severity of mental illness and how it impacts our world, it is easy to pay little attention to the strides made in regards to an issue that not long ago was often regarded as a private matter more or less off-limits to outsiders. After centuries of contempt and misrepresentation, the term ‘mental health’ is losing its’ stigma. What once conjured up visions of lunacy is now used to relate to common conditions of anxiety and depression which deserve attention in their own right given the amount of people they impact. Dr. Mark van Ommeren, a mental health expert from the WHO can be quoted telling NBC that “years of study after study showing that mental health conditions are common have created a snowball effect---media has played a positive role here, as have influential people who are starting to speak more about their mental health, which helps to reduce the stigma.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today on behalf of the Government of Canada that an investment of $240.5 million will be devoted to making virtual healthcare more accessible, including the Wellness Together Canada portal which provides free access to mental health and substance use support for all Canadians. Additionally, $500 million will be dedicated through the Safe Restart Agreement for the purpose of addressing the immediate needs and gaps in the support and protection of people experiencing challenges related to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. In consideration of anecdotal experience of emergencies like the one we find ourselves in, it is expected that the need for mental health and psychosocial support will increase dramatically in the coming months and years. Given the evidence mentioned above, it is easy to understand why this increase in investment is a good idea, not just from a humanitarian perspective, but economically as well.
Regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, or the battles we fight everyday in our head, psychological research has demonstrated time and time again the human tendency toward resilience. Vigor is in our nature, and as long as we continue educating ourselves, and doing our part to remove the stigma that is mental health, it is hard not to maintain an optimistic outlook moving forward.
Happy World Mental Health Day Everyone! Stay Safe!