Canada observed Mental Illness Awareness Week during October 6--12 of 2019. Established in 1992, it is coordinated by an alliance of national organizations called the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH.)
Mental Illness, historically treated as a matter of shame and denial, is starting to be discussed openly. Much of that credit belongs not only to organizations like CAMIMH, but also to cultural leaders and political parties taking the lead in exposing Canadians to the causes and cures of these debilitating conditions.
The treatment of the mentally ill in the past is a tale of horrors. For long, the mentally ill were considered to be demon-possessed and “cures” centered on driving out evil spirits by painful means.
We now know that mental illnesses are a function of an imbalance of certain brain chemicals. A healthy brain has proper amounts of the following four main chemicals: Dopamine, Glutamate, Norepinephrine and Serotonin. Dopamine controls behavior, emotion and cognition. Glutamate affects early brain development, cognition, learning and memory. Norepinephrine regulates stress levels and is vital in the “Fight vs. Flight” response and, finally, Serotonin plays a vital role in sleep, depression, appetite and mood.
Genetics plays an important role in the manifestation of mental illnesses, as does the environment. In many cases, the underlying genetic condition needs a “trigger,” such as deep stress, a life-changing event or drug use, to manifest. In some cases, mental illnesses are triggered by purely environmental or behavioral factors.
Mental illnesses are a ‘spectrum’ of disorders, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. For example, while the general public associates schizophrenia with its worst symptoms, such as visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions or even split-personality disorder, the fact is, a large majority of patients are able to recover and lead productive lives. Long term studies show that 25% of all schizophrenic patients fully recover, 35% become much improved and are able to live independently, 15% improve but need an extensive support network, while only 15% need additional intervention or do not recover.
However, the stigma associated with mental illnesses remains its greatest challenge. It prevents the mentally ill from seeking early detection and devastates family members, who may even deny that the condition exists with their loved ones. By education and advocacy, Canadian society is slowly removing this stigma.
One in three Canadians will suffer from some sort of mental illness during their lives; about 8% will suffer from major depression. The number of serious mental sufferers is about equal to those suffering from Alzheimer’s. Thus, mental illness is closer to many Canadians than they may realize. A change in attitude and education is of great value to all Canadians.
Mohan Ashtakala is the author of "Karma Nation," a literary romance and "The Yoga Zapper," a fantasy novel. (www.mohanashtakala.com) Published by Books We Love (www.bookswelove.com.)