Faces of Mental Health - The Importance of Community Awareness on Mental Health/Mental Illness by Anthony Gorman, Mental Health Outreach Worker & Trang Duong, Bachelor of Social Work Student, Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre

The term mental illness often conjures up images of the violent psychopath in horror movies, or the unkempt weirdo on the street corner.  For this reason and many others, it is vital that we continue to dispel the myths of mental illness and to raise awareness.
               Even though society has seen significant progress in how we treat and interact with those living with mental illness, it can be a confusing and shameful journey for individuals and families of those diagnosed.  Until we create a social environment that is more accepting and understanding, it will remain difficult for individuals to seek support and to disclose their illnesses to those around them.  Furthermore, many of the resources available to those with mental health challenges have substantial wait lists or strict criteria.  Community projects that raise mental health awareness can increase social tolerance and can encourage those with mental health challenges to reach out and demonstrate that mental illness impacts all of us. For example, an upcoming a panel discussion on mental health was held at the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre on Wednesday, June 27th.  This community event was organized by Hopewell volunteer Trang Duong and included Hopewell Program Coordinator Karen Donoghue as a panelist.
               As important as it is to raise social awareness, it is equally important to increase knowledge in order to help individuals recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges in themselves and others and to empower them to seek the proper supports. Supports in the community can be informal or formal, and can include friends, family, neighbours, teachers, professionals, peer support groups, and advocacy groups. By creating a safe space where individuals feel comfortable with their own mental wellness, they might use this knowledge and understanding to further advocate for their needs and to educate the public.
               In many ways, raising public awareness can have substantial impacts on individual and societal scopes.  If we can change the common stereotypes of those will mental health challenges, we can help deconstruct the notion of “us and them.”  We are all the face of mental health.