CONTENT WARNING: The following article discusses topics related to suicide and mental illness and may be triggering for individuals.
We are currently in a mental health crisis. Challenges such as stigma, COVID impacts, and inaccessibility to care may see it last longer than any other crisis we have experienced before.
In its essence, stigma surrounding mental health is prejudice, and can lead to discrimination, myths and misconceptions. Stigma also excludes people with mental illness from activities, empathy, and opportunities that are open to people without mental illness. This includes, but is not limited to:
Being accepted and understood by friends and family
Having access to affordable mental health services
Taking part in social activities
Having access to safe housing
Stigma surrounding mental health is dangerous. It leaves individuals hesitant to seek help – and at times stops them altogether. In fact, the Mental Health Commission of Canada reported:
If young people are bombarded with myths and misconceptions or met with prejudice, they will continue to suffer in silence and isolation. This only heightens their illness, which can lead to fatal outcomes.
During the pandemic, the mental health of many young people began or continued to deteriorate. In fact, nearly two-thirds of youth polled by UNICEF Canada said the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.
The cause of this is vast. For starters, although a public health necessity, quarantines and limiting social gatherings contributed to increased loneliness and isolation. According to a survey measuring the impacts of COVID-19 on the mental health of youth, 48 per cent of survey respondents shared that feeling lonely and isolated was a main challenge for them during the pandemic.
Additionally, uncertainty surrounding livelihood and economic security can increase feelings of worry, anxiety and depression, dramatically impacting a person’s mental health. Looking at the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19, young people are a vulnerable population.
Although we are now entering a post-pandemic era, COVID-19’s effects on mental health will require intervention and long-term care. This includes readily available counselling and psychotherapy as well as emotional well-being and mental health programs in schools and workplaces.
of surveyed young Canadians self-perceived poor mental health during the pandemic (Mental Health Commission of Canada)
of surveyed young Canadians reported having suicidal thoughts in the beginning stages of the pandemic. (CAMH)
increase in mental health service requests just weeks after the onset of the pandemic. (Kids Help Phone)
Healthcare systems in Canada have been called “two-tiered”. This label comes from the fact that while free services exist, those with money can access higher quality services fast.
Take psychotherapy and counselling, which is not covered by public health insurance. Rates are not standardized and can cost upwards of $100 per session. For young people, many of whom have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, these forms of treatment are unaffordable and inaccessible.
While free support services are available through government funding, wait times are notoriously long. In Ontario, children and youth under 18 may be waiting as long as two-and-a-half years to receive mental health treatment. The pandemic has certainly contributed to long wait times, with facility closures and a spike in mental health issues. But this has long been a problem before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The two-tiered health care system in Canada is no match for the mental health crisis. Access to mental health care is a matter of life and death.
It’s important we all do our part to end the mental health crisis, increasing access to care and eliminating stigma.
To accomplish the latter, we must focus on educating ourselves and others, recognizing that mental health is just as important as physical health, and showing empathy and compassion to those with a mental illness.
But it doesn’t stop there.
We must also find ways to advocate and fund programs that are working diligently to increase access to care and early intervention. One way is by donating to or raising awareness about the Support Mental Health Fund by Unite for Change. With your support, millions of young people can access lifesaving services and programs such as crisis support, counselling, education, and other types of treatment and critical resources.
We are in the midst of a mental health crisis. We all play a vital part in ending it. Become a mental health champion today and learn more about the Support Mental Health Fund.