May 3-9, 2010: Mental Awareness Week

Maria MustafaEquity

Written by Srishti Hukku

Rita Mae Brown, an influential American writer, has been quoted as saying “The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness.  Think of your three best friends.  If they’re okay, then it’s you.” However, all jokes aside, the stigma associated with mental illness and the resultant discrimination prove to be an even more debilitating side effect for the mentally ill than the illness itself (Dingfelder 2009, 56-8).  A negative reception of the mentally ill has remained an unceasing societal norm.  In 2008, the Canadian Medical Association released its eighth annual national health care report card.  The findings with relation to mental health indicate that a significant portion of the Canadian population continues to stigmatize those suffering from ental illness.  Some of the most relevant findings indicate that 27% of Canadians would be fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness and that 46% of Canadians think people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior.  Additionally, the majority of Canadians said that they would be unlikely to enter into a spousal relationship with someone who has a mental illness or hire a person with a mental illness as a lawyer, child care worker, financial advisor or family doctor (Canadian Mental Health Association 2008, 4).  It is most significant to realize that the aforementioned stigmas can manifest themselves as real barriers to appropriate care, employment opportunities and social integration.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) was created in 2007 through funding provided by the Government of Canada in the annual budget.  The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology tabled a report entitled Out of the Shadows at LastTransforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada which explicitly recommended the creation of the commission in order to encourage a national focus on mental health issues and to give all of the stakeholders interested in reform a forum for discussion (Section 16.1.3).  Since its inception, the MHCC has devised an Anti-Stigma/Anti-Discrimination Initiative which will be implemented over the course of the next ten years to tackle the systemic problems within the Canadian system.  The initial stage of the campaign will target youth and health care professionals.  The opinions of youth are more readily changed and health care professionals contribute significantly to the stigmatization of the mentally ill.

We should take this large-scale national intervention and Mental Health Week as an opportunity to underscore the importance of equitable treatment of all members of our community.


Dingfelder, Sadie F. “Stigma: Alive and Well.” Monitor on Pscyhology 40 (2009): 56-8.

Canadian Medical Association. “8th Annual National Report Card on Health Care. August 2008. p.4.

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