In Canada, mental illness is not well understood by the public. I think that people need to be able to see a problem before they go out and fix it. People with broken bones have limbs bent in places they shouldn't be. Infections give people fevers, nausea, or pain. If you saw someone with those symptoms, you'd take them to the emergency room or a walk-in clinic. Mental illnesses can go hidden for a long time because the individual appears to be okay in a physical sense. Those individuals have to reach out for help, because the people around them may never notice. People just aren't looking for the early signs of mental illness in their friends, family, or colleagues. They might never know, unless it progresses and becomes obvious.
Let's Look at the Numbers
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has some basic facts about mental illness in Canada on their website. I've copy and pasted the highlights below:
- 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
- Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
- About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).
- Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
- Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
What is Depression?
Everyone feels sad at some point in their life. This sadness may be caused by the death of a loved one, or by losing a job. Depression isn't the same as sadness, and it runs deeper than just "feeling blue." Depressed people aren't looking for attention or drama. It isn't just a state of sadness that needs to be overcome by will, and often individuals with depression will need medication or therapy to cope and heal.
Depression lasts for weeks, then months. Individuals with depression feel depressed, or they cannot enjoy things that they once used to enjoy. They may feel worthless or guilty, cannot concentrate or make important decisions, or have frequent thoughts of death and/or suicide. It can interfere with every aspect of life, including work and social aspects.
Depression can be treated with medication (antidepressants) or therapy (talk therapy). If you think you may depressed, you should speak to your doctor to rule out other causes. Self-education, therapy, and antidepressants combined will lead to the best outcome. Sometimes well-meaning people try to dissuade depressed individuals from seeking medical attention, even though treatment could help that individual.
Self-education is an important step--it's important to recognize depression as a serious medical ailment, and to debunk the myths and stigma surrounding depression.
Ms. Jessica Forbes is Fighting the Stigma of Depression by Sharing Her Personal Experience with Depression
I went through the motions of a happy high school student [...] thinking that this was just what life was like [...] I was good at everything. How could I not be good at feeling good?
-- Ms. Jessica Forbes in an Interview with Maritime Magazine
If you have the time, you should definitely listen to the interview Ms. Forbes had with Maritime Magazine (CBC). The interview includes audio snippets from the presentation Ms. Forbes gave to high school students. She lays bare the emotions and feelings that she experienced at the time.
Ms. Jessica Forbes is a 30-year-old woman who suffered from depression starting around age 14. She suffered for ten years without seeking help. During those ten years she was a successful student and athlete, and well-liked by the people around herself. She had a loving family. Despite this, she said that she would need to bargain with herself every night about why she would not jump out her bedroom window to her death. She didn't want to kill herself, but she admits that she thought of her death often.
Driven by a Need to Help Others
What really caught my eye in this headline wasn't just her personal experience with depression. It was her willingness to share that experience with high school students, despite her fear that her speech will become the first Google hit for her name. She presents her struggle to students in the hopes that it will give depressed students the courage to seek help.
Depression is a stigmatized medical condition. People often think that it's the same as being sad, and that people who are depressed are just acting dramatic or being too involved. Ms. Forbes admits that one of the reasons that she didn't seek help was a fear that people would tell her that she was just being dramatic.
I think that part of the problem is the people that depressed individuals are closest to cannot understand why that individual would be depressed. "You can't be depressed -- I've known you for x period of time and you've always been happy." Sometimes there are reasons for depression. Sometimes, as Ms. Forbes' story shows, depression hits a person that you wouldn't suspect because he/she was going through the motions of a happy individual. Other people get so caught up in the "why?" that they forget that there's a person with an illness that needs to be treated.
Depression is a condition that is often suffered in private. Ms. Forbes has told her story to over 3000 people, creating a dialogue that allows people to talk about depression. If you haven't listened to her interview with Maritime Magazine (CBC) yet, do so.