Shining A Light On…Mental Health

By Brittney Servetnyk, Young Worker Committee Member and CMHA Saskatoon Branch

The SEIU-West Young Workers Committee (YWC) is aiming to shine a light on issues that often get pushed into the shadows – in the last installment, the YWC shone a light on service animals and people with disabilities – in this article, the YWC interviewed staff at the Canadian Mental Health Association who share their insight on mental health, stigma, and suicide as we recognize September as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

Q: Why is there a stigma with mental health? How does it affect a person with mental health?

A: There is stigma associated with mental health problems because of a lack of understanding and information.  Society perceives individuals with mental health problems in a negative manner as a result of the common misconceptions that are often portrayed in the media.

Stigma leaves an individual feeling unable to talk about what they are experiencing because of overwhelming shame, embarrassment, and fear of being rejected. These assumptions made about individual’s living with a mental health problem restrict them from opportunities including basic needs such as housing, nutrition, socialization, financial stability and participating in further education and/or the workforce.

Q: How can mental health education help break the stigma?

A: Mental Health education allows us to change the perceptions and assumptions made about individuals experiencing mental health problems.  It assists in the normalization of mental health so that individuals who are struggling feel like they can talk about it and gain the support they need.  It is important to understand and know how to address mental health so that we can support others as well as take care of our own mental health needs.   

Q: Where can a person reach out for help?

A: If an individual believes they are struggling with their mental health their first step could be to talk to their family doctor, to explore their symptoms or concerns further.  That individual could also ask their doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist who can provide a diagnosis and treatment options.  Other options include therapeutic counselling, community support groups, or physical activity.  However, anytime an individual has questions about mental health, resources or how to support a loved one they can always contact any Canadian Mental Health Association branch.   

Q: Research shows rural and northern communities have higher suicide rates, how do we help address this crisis as a province?

A: It is true that individuals living in rural and northern communities face multiple barriers in accessing mental health services due to their geographical location and as a result are subjected to high rates of isolation.  In particular, individuals struggling with mental health problems in rural areas are unable to access psychiatric care, to provide assessment of symptoms and treatment options.  An alternative to this in rural areas could be additional training for resources already established within the community. For example, social workers who have the required experience and education can now apply to receive an authorized practice endorsement, which allows them to provide an official diagnosis for individuals experiencing mental health problems. Some other alternatives to addressing mental health in the rural areas could include having multidisciplinary teams, collaborative community networks, peer support and telemedicine.

Q: How can we the YWC and all SEIU-West members help?

A: SEIU-West can help spread awareness by talking about it, implementing healthy workplace strategies and taking the initiative to take care of your own mental health. More specifically, in my experiences in the workplace, I have seen a need for education and training to implement healthy workplaces strategies.  Providing adequate training and education options such as Mental Health First Aid or the Psychological Health and Safety Standard for the select staff or support people is essential to best address mental health in the workplace.

SEIU-West is taking action on mental health awareness by incorporating it into our union training sessions such as Unionism in Practice, Duty to Accommodate, Facing Management Level II, our Domestic Violence Workshops and our upcoming OH&S course. We have also sponsored members to attend Mental Health First Aid. For more information, please contact [email protected].


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