“Mental health is the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well-being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.” (University of Toronto, 1997)
The stigmatization of mental illnesses can be seen as far back in history as Plato’s Republic (360 B.C.) which argued that “immortality is to the soul what disease is to the body”. Fortunately, however, we’ve come a long way in improving our attitudes and beliefs around mental health and mental illnesses. Health professionals now recognize mental health as an important part of one’s overall wellbeing that encompasses an individual’s emotions, thoughts and behaviours, and as such, affects every aspect of one’s life. As a result, mental illnesses are increasingly identified and support for individuals with these illnesses has greatly improved. The changing attitudes of health professionals is an important first step toward reducing the stigma of mental illnesses, but changing the attitudes of everyone else is needed in order to fully remove the stigma and reduce the barriers that prevent people from accessing mental health resources. Simply put, we need to ReTHINK Mental Health.
Young adulthood and university life are exciting stages of one’s life but, as you know, they can also be highly stressful periods. University students are subject to social, personal and academic demands which have the potential to negatively impact their mental wellbeing. Long hours, too little sleep, too much caffeine or a poor diet (any of this sound familiar?), peer pressure, a changing environment and much, much more can all contribute to creating a stressful environment that may trigger a change in your mental wellbeing. It’s not surprising then that studies have shown that psychological disorders are most prevalent among young adults between 15 and 24 years old and that 75% of psychological problems manifest before the age of 25.
When someone thinks of mental illness it’s likely that the first image that comes to mind is the “dirty, schizophrenic man that spouts gibberish at passersby when he’s not conversing with his invisible dog” that’s so often represented in films and television. That image is representative of a very small proportion of individuals with a mental illness, and represents only one of the numerous mental illnesses that exist (incidentally, it also represents someone who wasn’t able to access the support mechanisms that exist for people with mental illnesses). Mental illness is not just schizophrenia. A wide range of disorders fall into the category of mental illness, some of which include:
- eating disorders
- anxiety and stress
- emotional disorders
When you rethink mental illnesses to include all of these it becomes clear how prevalent mental illnesses are. In fact, you probably know several people who have faced some of these challenges at some point in their life. It’s not surprising then that the Canadian Mental Health Association (2009) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (2002) have report that 1 in 5 Canadians will be affected by mental illness over the course of their lives.
Being supported in achieving and maintaining good mental health is important to your success as a student and the UTM Health & Counselling Centre and the UTM AccessAbility Resource Centre are some of the resources available for students on campus. This website is a great starting point for learning more about mental health and provides information about many on- and off-campus resources. The nurses, doctors and personal counsellors within the UTM Health & Counselling Centre are also there as a resource and would be happy to meet to discuss how you can maintain your mental wellbeing and to address any concerns you may have.
ReTHINK Mental Health!