Recently, I found myself being one of 200 delegates chosen to attend a conference in Toronto to discuss the stigma around mental health, and most importantly; how to get rid of it.
The Jack Summit, as the conference is called, is held yearly. This year, 200 youths and young adults from around Canada met in Toronto, and 500 students from around Canada joined us from satellite summits. All 700 of us met with one common goal: to transform the way we think about mental health.
Here in Canada, the stigma around mental health is still strong, and society as a whole still has many wrong viewpoints about it. Often, people today still forget a crucial fact regarding mental health: everybody has it.
Mental health is just like physical health- while some have better mental health than others, it’s something we all must strive to take care of and ‘keep in shape’, so to speak. Regardless of whether or not one has a mental disorder, everybody has mental health- we all have thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and it plays a big part in who we are and how we live our day to day lives. If one has poor mental health, life becomes hard and even our physical health may become affected, as well.
At the summit, many good points were brought up and discussed, one of them being the subject of men and mental health- or more specifically, how our society still holds the idea that men should ‘man up’ and not speak about their emotions. Obviously, this doesn’t help at all for boys who suffer from mental illness, and often keeps them silent and makes them keep from discussing the problems they have and getting the help they need.
This might come as a shock to many people, but in the year of 2011, ¾ of the Canadian youth who died by suicide were male. When many people picture mental illness, the face that comes to mind is usually of a woman- especially for disorders like depression, or for eating disorders.
However, men suffer just as much from mental illness as women do- the difference being that men when voicing their problems are often told to ‘man up’ and ‘get over it’, and are even looked down upon by women and even other men for having these problems.
Many young males in Canada today aren’t willing to speak up about their mental health because of both the stigma surrounding mental health, and because of the way society tells men to act. Society tells men to hide their emotions because it isn’t “manly” to feel sad or to cry, or to talk about one’s feelings. Many boys today don’t realize that talking about your feelings doesn’t make you less of a man- it makes you a better one, as you step up and you acknowledge that you need help and are willing to seek the help you need.
Another thing that we discussed at the summit was our society’s “social norms”, and we asked the question: “Why isn’t it normal to have a conversation about mental health?”
It was brought up that though asking how somebody is doing is seen as the polite and expected thing to do, most of the time it seems a natural response to say “I’m fine,” even when you really aren’t. Sometimes when people ask the simple question, “How are you?” they don’t even stick around and wait for the reply- it’s become that natural to expect a simple ‘I’m fine’ in response.
So it was decided that we need to change what is our society’s ‘normal’. All of us need to step up and strive to make a change to what we view as our ‘normal’- why shouldn’t we be able to talk freely about our mental health? Why shouldn’t boys still be seen as ‘manly’, even when they talk about how they’ve been feeling? Why isn’t this a commonplace thing, and how can we make it ‘normal’?
Though it might seem like a hard thing to do, it’s a fact that change starts out small. It starts with you and me, doing small things every day to set the metaphorical ball in motion. You can start by trying to break down the barriers society has set up; try to demolish people’s views of us vs them, and you can try sharing your own struggles or stories with people- your friends, your distant family, peers- anybody.
Even if you aren’t ready to make the change in others, you can still make the change in yourself- if you’re struggling, seek help. Talk to your school’s guidance counselor, talk to a friend, to a parent, or somebody you trust. Find somebody who can help you or just listen, and can support you when you’re feeling low. The change doesn’t have to start in others- it starts with you, too.
There are many resources around you, both in real life (counselors, parents, friends, doctors, etc.) and online. Here are some that I’ve heard are very helpful;
- 7cupsoftea.com– a site where you can talk to people, completely free of charge, about your problems, and you can also volunteer to talk to other’s about their problems as well
- imalive.org – a site that works as an online chat for suicidal people/people in crisis
- kidshelpphone.ca – kids help phone is a pretty common name used when telling us Canadian youth about ways to reach out for help, and I will even admit that I’ve used it myself and find that it is helpful. Now Kids Help Phone also offers online chatting sessions for those who prefer to type rather than talk. You can also post questions about your problems on one of the forums (and get answers within 2-3 days), and if you really need to talk now, you can still call them at 1-800-668-6868.
Remember, the change starts with you, even if the first step is to help yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak up and speak out, and remember to make some noise.
For more information on the Jack Summit; Jack.org
Until next time!