“No one taught me in high school or middle school about mental health. The fact that that almost killed me is a travesty in itself because if someone would have taught me about mental health, maybe I wouldn't have suffered as long as I did.”
– Corey Hirsch, mental health advocate
Despite all the hand-wringing about Alberta health care this election season, a similar commotion about mental heath services has failed to materialize.
That’s despite the fact that if you’re over the age of 40, there’s a 50 per cent chance you’ve experienced, or are experiencing, a mental illness.
Statistics on mental health in Alberta are painful to read and paint a bleak picture of how far our society still has to go in recognizing the vital importance of recognizing and treating such ailments.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says eight per cent of adults experience major depression at some point in their lives; five per cent experience anxiety disorders. Nearly a quarter of deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds are from suicide.
Here in St. Albert, youths identified mental health as their top issue in a recent survey. And between 2017 and 2018, information and mental health referral services in St. Albert reported a whopping 33 per cent increase.
Yet mental illness is still not widely recognized as a major affliction, and even those who suffer from it may not seek help because of the negative stigma society places on it. Unlike a broken limb, mental injuries are unseen – and history has shown that makes it easier to ignore them.
Voices like former NHL goalie Corey Hirsch’s ultimately help to break through that shameful, silencing stigma that’s still attached to mental health. This is a man who literally came back from the edge of driving off a cliff near Kamloops in the summer of 1994. Afterward, he sought the help he needed. By opening up about his experience, Hirsch is sending a loud, clear message to all who hear it that they are not alone in their struggles.
Hirsch is coming to the Arden on May 14 to offer his encouragement to people who feel ashamed of their mental illness or are hesitant to seek help. The event will raise money for the St. Albert Community Foundation's Youth Mental Health Fund.
Hirsch has been open about his battle with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder in a way that truly helps to shed light on the kind of suffering mental illnesses cause. He has been a relentless advocate for mental health and has made it his mission to get everyone talking about this important issue – even kids. He’s stopping by a couple of schools in May as well to share his experience with students.
While we still have a long way to go with our health-care system, we must continue to hear from those who have experienced mental illness and who have come through the other side of it. Their stories remind us that mental illness affects everyone. Thanks to the efforts of the St. Albert Community Foundation, the word is getting out.