By Rhonda Matters (guest opinion)
Bell Let's Talk Day logo
Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. This provides an important step in combating the stigma associated with mental health issues. It promotes the idea that people should be able to talk about their mental health difficulties, just like they would talk about any other health difficulty.
This not only helps reduce stigma, but helps those experiencing difficulties get the support and assistance they need.
One in five Canadians experiences a mental health difficulty each year. Fortunately, there is much that everyone can do to help. Being able to talk to a friend, co-worker, or family member can help. Getting some suggestions about things that other people found helpful can make a difference. And being encouraged and supported in seeking help when that is necessary can help. The earlier people can identify, discuss, and get support and intervention, the better.
Bell Canada has also publicly embraced the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace since its release by the Mental Health Commission of Canada in January 2013. Roughly half a million Canadians miss time from work each week as a result of mental health difficulties. Improving and promoting good mental health in the workplace not only improves the lives of individual workers, but it also makes economical sense as it boosts productivity and reduces the cost of sick leaves and disability claims.
Islanders are caring and community minded. They are quick to help out and offer support. But living in a small community can sometimes make stigma more of a concern, more of a hurdle to overcome.
There is still stigma associated with both mental health concerns and addictions.
We have made some in roads and I feel confident that this can continue, but it may require a bit of a switch. A switch from being sympathetic to those experiencing difficulties but encouraging them to seek help and support somewhere else, to realizing that we all play a part in supporting and improving their (and our) well-being.
People who experience mental health and addiction difficulties are our neighbours, our relatives, our co-workers, our employees. They attend our churches and schools, they live in nursing homes and group homes, they go to medical clinics and hospitals to address their physical needs. So in all of these locations, we need to become more comfortable and more adept at meeting their needs, and offering assistance.
Sometimes it is a lack of information and experience that makes people feel uncomfortable, and that is understandable. But if there is a willingness and openness to learn, the experience and information can be provided, and the discomfort and uncertainty can decrease. The needs of one in five people cannot be met by one small section of our health care system. We must all play a part - all government departments, the non-profit and private sectors, and all community members.
Over the past months I have been meeting with the dedicated frontline employees and community partners who work each day to provide mental health and addictions supports and services to Islanders.
I am hearing about how many different organizations are working together on Multi-Agency Support Teams within some of our schools (mental health, justice, addictions, police, child and family services). I am hearing about multidisciplinary teams that are working together to assist seniors, their families, and their care facilities.
I am hearing about collaboration between government agencies and community organizations, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Catholic Family Services Bureau, and many more. And I am hearing about new ways government departments have been trying to work better together, such as mental health staff consulting in primary care settings, addiction prevention programs being delivered in schools, and increased collaboration between Health PEI and our Provincial Corrections Centre.
There remains much work to be done, but seeing that willingness to work together and be innovative provides much hope. I look forward to meeting with many more Islanders in the coming weeks and months and working with them.
So on Jan. 28, and every day after, please think about how you can continue to reduce the stigma and support those who may be struggling with mental health and addiction concerns. Be willing to ask others about their experiences and consider sharing yours. Let's talk.
Dr. Rhonda Matters is Prince Edward Island’s Chief Mental Health and Addictions Officer.