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Through my ongoing training as a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba, and my advocacy work for mental health as a board member of the Manitoba Psychological Society (MPS), I have become increasingly aware of the sheer scope and severity of mental health problems both in Canada and around the world. Even more concerning is the disparity of attention paid to our mental health when compared to our physical health. The World Health Organization recently noted that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability around the world, with, for example, an estimated 350 million people worldwide suffering from depression. In North America, 1 in every 2 people will experience a diagnosable mental disorder across the lifetime. In Canada, at any given time, 1 in 5 Canadians are dealing with mental illness (this doesn’t include those who are experiencing more moderate mental health issues), with the remaining 80% (e.g., friends, family, coworkers) being affected indirectly by these illnesses [i]. Although 20% of the Canadian population is in need of mental health services [ii], 2 out of 3 do not seek help [iii]. The economic costs of poor mental health in Canada, both direct and indirect, have been estimated at a staggering $50 billion annually [iv]. Of course, the human costs of poor mental health are impossible to quantify.
The greatest travesty is that effective and economical psychological treatments are available for mental health problems, but not readily accessible. So the question arises, why don’t people seek help for these problems? Time and time again, research has demonstrated that the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties is one of the two major barriers to Canadians seeking help for mental health problems (the other being access (i.e., financial) – that psychological services aren’t covered by the universal health plan). The natural outcome of this social stigma is that most Canadians suffer in isolation and without effective treatment [v]. Importantly, adolescents and young adults have been identified as being a primary demographic for reducing this paralyzing social stigma.
Because I am deeply passionate about reducing the stigma associated with mental illness in Canada as well as a strong advocate for the work of clinical psychologists, I have been working with the Manitoba Psychological Society in developing an anti-stigma mental health awareness campaign titled “Mind Your Mental Health”. This campaign is intended to convey four specific messages: (a) that both mental health and physical health are equally important determinants overall health and well-being (indeed they are synonymous with one another – in effect, two sides of the same coin); (b) that one should not feel ashamed or stigmatized for having a mental health issue and that seeking help for mental health difficulties is not a weakness but, in fact, an indication of personal strength; (c) there are highly trained mental health professionals (e.g., clinical psychologists) available to provide scientifically validated treatments to help improve mental health; and (d) both the public and health professionals need to work together to lobby the government for greater access to these much needed psychological services. In order to maximize the salience of MPS’s mental health campaign and these messages I have decided to take the personal step to advocate for it by combining it with my participation in an extreme race event on November 17-18, 2012.
In May 2012, I completed an adventure race called Tough Mudder (TM), which involved running a rugged 12-mile course through approximately 30 obstacles designed by British Special Forces. There are roughly 35 of these TM events around the world, including Canada, with close to 500,000 racers competing. The top 800 finishers each year (of which I am one) qualify for the world championship race, titled World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). For this world championship race, athletes must run laps of an 8-10 mile course featuring the world’s most challenging obstacles – scaling walls, running through mud and fire, subzero swims, and 10,000 volt electric shocks. The winner will be the athlete that completes the greatest number of laps over a grueling 24-hour period.
Successfully completing this event requires cardiovascular stamina, brute strength, agility, dexterity, and most of all mental resilience and a passion to prove oneself. Importantly, the TM race culture specifically encourages teamwork, cooperation, and helping others reach the end above winning, an element that parallels the spirit of mental health professionals in Canada. Since May 2012, I have been in an intensive training program in preparation for this race and this will continue through November 2012. Recently, the University of Manitoba jumped on board in order to help sponsor me in this race campaign.
In closing, I feel strongly that for those struggling to deal with mental health problems in the face of stigma and a shortage of available resources, life can be like one big obstacle course; challenge after challenge. My participation in this world championship race reflects the struggle of so many Canadians and my hope is that this broader MPS campaign will not only draw attention to the struggles of those dealing with mental health problems, but would also encourage those individuals and the government to not shy away from the issue of mental health. To understand that the best way to deal with it is to talk about it – to face it head-on.
Caelin White, M.A.
Ph.D. Candidate, Clinical Psychology
University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, MB
For more information please contact me at email@example.com
[i] Health Canada. A Report on Mental IIllness in Canada, 2002.
[ii] Sareen, J., Cox, B. J., Affi, T. O., Clara I., Yu, B.N. Perceived need for mental health treatment in a nationally representative Canadian sample. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 643-651, 2005.
[iii] Statistics Canada. Canadian community health survey: Mental health and well-being. 2002.
[iv] National Physician Survey, 2007.
[v] Canadian Medical Association, 8th Annual National Report Card on Health Care, August 2008.