Campaigning to end mental illness stigma



Despite media campaigns, stigma against mental illness is alive and well.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, only 49 per cent of Canadians say they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness, and 27 per cent say they are fearful of being around those who suffer from mental illness.

In the modern world, mental illness is being treated differently than years ago, with more information available to the public, and sufferers being more open to speak about their struggles.

Efforts to end the stigmas attached to mental illness are helped by campaigns such as Bell Let’s Talk, but online advocacy can give a false sense of having done anything to actually help.

As a sufferer of borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety, Mikayla Chaput believes that not everyone makes an effort beyond typing out a hashtag once a year.

“It just makes people feel like they’re contributing to a cause, not one they actually understand or care for,” says Chaput. “If people want to make a difference, they ought to be more supportive and genuine because I don’t think many people see it as an actual barrier or illness.”

Ignorance leads to stigma

When it comes to young people, their mental illnesses can often be overlooked as “just being hormonal” when it comes to illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

“I hate more than anything to hear or see people say that it’s attention-based because it is so much more than that and people need to understand it,” she says.

Dealing with the “ugly side” of mental illnesses is something the 19-year-old believes needs to be addressed more often.

“I think that most people don’t deem it as an actual illness that is something out of a person’s control,” she says. “If they see someone who suffers from mental illness they just deem them as ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’ and that makes me sick to my stomach.”


Lisa Giroux, a worker for Canadian Mental Health Association knows what it’s like to see her clients go through life with minimal to no support for their illnesses due to a lack of awareness from others.

“I believe there is a vast amount of information, but again, due to stigma, people are afraid to seek information,” says Giroux. “It seems people living with an illness or those who are living it with someone else, are usually the only ones interested. There is a lot of fear surrounding the unknown. Mental health issues scare many people away.”

Giroux also believes that the level of function and location of those who suffer mental illness affect how much people are willing to make an effort to understand.

“My clients are in a small community [Powassan, Ont.] and are very low-functioning. The people [in Powassan] are very understanding,” says Giroux.

“Our centre in North Bay doesn’t receive the same level of acceptance in the community. In saying that, they are also dealing with higher functioning clients, which brings more aggression, manipulation and [makes it] harder to conform to society’s expectations.”

Suffering in silence

Like Giroux’s higher functioning clients, two in three people “suffer in silence fearing judgement and rejection” according to the Canadian Medial Association, proving that stigma is part of the reason who those living with mental illnesses do not seek help.

The anti-stigma initiative of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign operates under the belief that talking about ending stigma “is the first step towards lasting change,” along with care and access, workplace health, and research.

Bell Let’s Talk will take place on January 25 2016 with Bell donating five cents to mental health initiatives every time someone participates in one of the designated activities.