World Mental Health Day: Changing attitudes starts with changing ourselves
Today is World Mental Health Day: an annual event dedicated to raising public awareness about mental health issues worldwide. Mental illness affects everyone: 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining 4 will have a friend, family
member or colleague who will. Statistically speaking, exposure to the devastating effects of mental illness is a universal human experience. Yet the shame and stigma surrounding it remains.
Real potential for change exists in personal awareness. Educating ourselves on the facts and figures surrounding stigma is important, but we shouldn’t mistake it for anything more than the first step. Instead, let’s take the opportunity today to mindfully examine our own attitudes and behaviours. What thoughts, emotions and sensations are stirred up by the subject of mental illness? What might they reveal about our underlying beliefs and fears? How might we recognize our fears with kindness, openness, and curiosity–and extend that same compassion to others who may be experiencing mental illness?
Responding to mental illness with compassion is more than a nice idea. Research suggests that while education about mental illness helps us respond less negatively to the idea of mental illness, it isn’t as effective when it comes to changing our responses to actual individuals suffering from mental illness. Compassionate acceptance is the antithesis of the judgement and condemnation that shames and prevents people from seeking help.