Monday, September 20, 2010

Culture: Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This month, my local Member of Parliament, Gerard Kennedy, began a campaign that was suggested by his constituent committees to raise mental health awareness. He wants to make the Parkdale-High Park riding Canada's first "Mental Health Stigma-Free Zone." Kennedy's impression based on public events thus far is that the initiative, dubbed "Change Your Mind," seems to be resonating based on people signing the associated pledge.

It does resonate with me. I was once involved in a professional situation in which a colleague turned out to be suffering from a mental health problem. It never even crossed my mind at the time that mental health might be the root cause for some very strange behavior. Instead, I was part of a management team that re-assigned the individual based on an apparent lack of judgment. Only months later, after the person resigned, did we find out from their spouse that they were undergoing treatment for depression. It's clear that had we referred the employee to a mental health professional, those talents probably would not have been lost from the company.

Further, because the company was hanging on for survival on such a thin thread, we never followed up by getting training in spotting such a situation. To this day, I don't know if I would spot the same thing if the symptoms were somewhat different, nor would I know the correct way to approach someone to convince them to get help. This is training that I would like to receive.

As for Kennedy's campaign, it calls for people to affirm that:
  • Mental illness is a health condition like any other
  • Negative attitudes about mental illness contribute to the problem
  • People living with mental illness should be treated fairly and respected--whether at work, in housing, in relationships, or elsewhere
  • I will personally promote respect and practice acceptance towards individuals who may have mental illness
  • Canadians living with mental illness must receive equally-funded health care services
It then asks then to pledge to one or more of the following:
  1. Tell at least three friends that I support promoting respect and practicing acceptance towards individuals living with mental illness and addictions
  2. Reach out to affected individuals and families I know and ask how I can support them
  3. Get my work/volunteer group involved in this initiative
  4. Promote respect in my workplace/school to support affected customers/co-workers/classmates
  5. Promote equitable funding for mental health services
  6. Support a project to improve housing and/or work for people living with mental illness
It will be interesting to see how the "Change Your Mind" initiative progresses.

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