How are you today?
That question is asked of each of us every day. Without even thinking about the question, most of us respond, “Great, thanks. How about you?”
With the social niceties out of the way, the true conversation begins.
But really, how are you today? Most of us accept that question as just a way of introducing ourselves to others, but in truth that question can be the hardest one of all to answer.
So, how are you today?
For many – and many, many more than you may realize – that question is daunting, perplexing, frightening and anguishing. When Corey Hirsch asked a room of about 300 people if they, or someone they knew, suffers from mental illness, nearly 300 hands shot up.
Hirsch, a former NHL goalie, spoke about his own battle with mental illness at the Arden Theatre Tuesday night. Hosted by the St. Albert Community Foundation, the event educated attendees on the prevalence of mental illness in our community.
The audience heard that in any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem. Think about that, just for a second. That means for every five people you encounter, one of them is suffering. Even more alarming, by the time Canadians reach the age of 40, one in two have – or have had – a mental illness.
As Hirsch told the crowd, people can see if you’re hurting – on the outside. If you break a leg and you don’t get it fixed, people will not only wonder why you aren’t getting it fixed, they will insist on driving you to the hospital. If you suffer from a debilitating mental illness, however, people can’t see it, and therefore no one is insisting that you get the treatment you need to get better.
There is a stigma about mental illness which can preclude sufferers from bringing their situation to light. If someone asks their employer for a stress leave, or a mental health day off, they are often branded as weak, whiners and high-maintenance employees. Society expects people to suck it up and shake it off. But as Hirsch intimated, mental illness can be a very dark place resulting in weight loss (or gain), withdrawal from family and friends, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide. According to a survey administered by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 40 per cent of Canadians agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help.
Mental illness, like a broken leg, can be treated, but it takes the recognition and admission of sufferers that they need help. Hirsch suffered for three agonizing years before he sought the help he needed. He grew up in a world where men were weak if they cried, where it would be unacceptable to tell your friends you’re not feeling good on the inside. Society’s understanding of mental illness and how it can ultimately take lives is necessary if the battle against an-all-too-common disease is to be effectively fought.
So, how are you today – really?
Editorials are the consensus view of the St. Albert Gazette’s editorial board.