For those who have never personally dealt with a mental illness, or helped a loved one through it, it’s difficult to know what to do or say to help.
“There’s often perceptions that he or she just needs to work harder,” said Dave Mackenzie, Clarence Fulton Secondary counsellor.
“But we wouldn’t say that to someone who has asthma. Ultimately they’re not well.”
To help students, parents and the community better understand mental health and reduce such stigma, the Vernon School District has planned events for Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 6 to 12.
School-wide assemblies will take place and there will be a free public presentation Tuesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Vernon Recreation Complex.
“We need to be talking about this as much as we talk about any other illness,” said Mackenzie. “The more conversations we can have the less stigma we will have.”
Helping with the message will be youth from the Mood Disorders Association of B.C., suicide prevention speakers and comedian Big Daddy Tazz (thanks to funding from the Canadian Mental Health Association).
“They (mental illnesses) are such serious issues for people and their families and often there’s not a lot to laugh about,” said Mackenzie. “It’s a bit of a cliche but laughter is the best medicine.”
But the presentations also hope to have a serious impact on how people treat others struggling with mental health, whether its depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.
“I liken it to something like diabetes or asthma,” said Mackenzie. “We don’t look down on those people, we don’t blame them for having asthma or diabetes.”
Yet, statistics show that more people (one in five) are affected by mental health than the seemingly more common diseases like asthma, diabetes and cancer.
The reason, said Mackenzie, is the stigma often prevents those suffering from seeking assistance.
“They don’t want to acknowledge it,” he said, as many fear they will be labelled as ‘crazy.’
The presentations aim to reduce that stigma by showing how many people are managing their lives despite a mental illness.
“We want to put a more positive light on it.”
Part of that is also highlighting the link between mental illness and drugs and alcohol.
“That’s the thing that we see that we need to help our kids with in the school system, the self medication,” said Doug Rogers, district substance abuse prevention counsellor.
“They have a few drinks or smoke marijuana to deal with it.”
Mackenzie is also hoping to show a video from Amanda Todd’s mom Carol about her daughter’s suicide and how she lost her fight with mental health issues.
The Port Coquitlam youth committed suicide Oct. 10, 2012 (which happens to be World Mental Health Day). Now Carol is trying to light the world up purple on Thursday, urging businesses to light up in purple and individuals to wear the colour.
CMHA is also hosting Beyond the Blues screenings for students, parents and families, which are confidential, walk-in events in the counselling areas of the following schools:
n Charles Bloom Secondary, Monday 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
n Kalamalka Secondary, Tuesday 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
n W.L. Seaton, Wednesday 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
n Vernon Secondary, Thursday 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
n Clarence Fulton, Friday 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
“One of our commitments in organizing Beyond the Blues is to create friendly, engaging and safer spaces for people to start and continue conversations about their mental health – and this year especially, encouraging reflection on what good mental health looks like,” said Susan Myhre, CMHA local event organizer. “We want Beyond the Blues participants to leave feeling empowered, better informed, hopeful and supported.”