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Stigma surrounding mental illness is still prevalent

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The stigma associated with mental illness has been decreasing but there’s still a long way to go, according to a mental health and addictions expert.

“We have noticed stigma, overall, has gone down in the past five-to-10 years, and certainly more so in the past two-to-five years, with increased communication, conversations and normalizing the talk around mental illness,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

“That is encouraging people to come forward and seek support and help but, nevertheless, we also know that people continue to suffer in silence and that stigma remains very prevalent.”

Dr. Kamkar suggests stigma can come in different forms; from others and from within.

“Personal stigma refers to one’s perception of mental illness in general or of others suffering from mental illness. There is also self-stigma, which can be very, very disabling,” she tells NEWS 1130. “That’s when we start appraising ourselves — our thoughts, our emotions — in relation to mental illness and start internalizing other people’s attitudes toward ourselves.”

That can result, Kamkar says, in negative self-talk and self-labelling.

Workplace stigma can also be an issue, including whether or not an organization provides the support and resources needed for employees who are struggling.

As we mark CMHA Mental Health Week, Dr. Kamkar says it is important for everyone to be educated about mental health issues.

“It’s about building our own awareness so that, of course, when we recognize the signs and symptoms within ourselves that we seek help and support. But we also want to build understanding in general so that if we know someone is suffering, we are better able to listen, to accept, and to help in any way we can.”

As people have become more open about mental illness, Kamkar says young people especially are more apt to have conversations about it.

“We have seen that youth mental health is a top priority and we know that youth — especially between the ages of 15 and 24 — report the highest level of mental health problems in addition to addiction.”

She points out suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and adolescents, so it is vital to let people know where to go when they need help.

“You need access to care, resources and expertise. We know that psychological treatment — especially evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy — has been found to be very effective for anxiety and depression.”

But, she adds, help often starts with an empathetic ear.

“Of course the context matters, but it is important to know the power of listening. Sometimes we might know what to say or what to do, but just listening and being there for the person is very, very powerful,” Kamkar tells NEWS 1130.

“Leave the door open so the person is able to make a choice, but let then know there is a supportive person there for them.”

-With files from Amanda Wawryk

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