Mental Illness is Rampant

By Dave Hood

There’s an interesting feature article in this morning’s Globe and Mail. According to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Health, 46 % of all adult Americans fit the criteria for at least one mental illness in the DSM Manual, the diagnostic tool that psychiatrists and mental health workers, such as a psychologist,  use to diagnose mental illness. Are we to infer, then, that 46% of American suffer from mental illness. It’s certainly food for thought.

The fact of the matter is that mental illness–anxiety, depression, addiction—is rampant in our society. Did you know that 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from some mental illness during their lifetime. Did you know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people between the ages of 16-25. Did you know that the number one reason people phone in sick at work is because of stress, anxiety, depression. And did you know that there is someone in your family who suffers from mental illness. I’d also bet that those who read this opinion essay know of someone who takes an anti-depressant medication to fend off dysthymia or more serious depression.

Most people living on the street in a big city, such as Toronto, are suffering from some form of mental illness. You can see them as you walk down Yonge St. They are dirty, ragged, beg for money in quiet desperation. Yet most people passing on the street, ignore the plight of the beggar, the homeless. It’s not “my problem” they think to themselves. This person has “chosen” to live on the street, they believe as they walk past. But in most cases, this is just not true.

And, if your depressed, suffer from anxiety,  never tell your employer. And if you choose to take the chance,  If you disclose your mental health issues to your employer, you probably won’t get the promotion—and you will be stigmatized by people in your workplace, who typically don’t understand mental health, don’t know the first thing about mental illness.

In part, the corporation itself is to blame. The corporation is an entity unto itself. It’s mission is to maximize profits for its shareholders. To do so, Big Business is often a believer in Social Darwinism, the survival of the strongest. Its mission is to cannibalize the competition—at any cost, within the law. To increase profits, the typical corporation cuts staff, increases the workload of the existing employees. This creates stress. Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, mental illness.

The mindset of the typical director and manager of large corporations also creates stress in the workplace, which often leads to mental health issues. Many managers, directors in large corporations are only concerned with getting the work done, staying on budget, looking good to their superiors–so that they don’t get “pink slipped.” Moreover, the managers view is that workers must be tough minded, do what it takes to get the job done, or the worker will be replaced.As well, many managers have poor people skills,  don’t know the first thing about treating people with common decency, respect, compassion. And so, stress becomes like a fire out of control. The fact is “stress” can lead to anxiety, depression—sick leave due to mental illness. It is far more common than most people think. And yet, this problem goes on ignored, swept unde the rug by the CEO, senior staff, and “culture of the corporation. It’s just not talked about. It’s a taboo subject.

The typical HR Department also perpetuates the “Social Darwinism” view of the corporation–which leads to mental health issues in the workplace. Stress and mental illness are just not talked about in far too many departmental meetings or by Human Resource Departments. The fact is that most people, even smart people, with MBA’s don’t understand mental illness–until they experience it themselves. The view of typical HR Departments mirrors the corporation philosophy—-the primary reason to exist is to do what it takes to maximize profit, so that share holders can reap the benefits.That is the mindset of the typical CEO and senior staff, and it is supported implicitly by the HR Manager. So the “profit maximization mindset at any cost mentality” is perpetuated by the corporation, big business. And the stressed-out workplace becomes the seed that grows into stress related mental illness, such as anxiety and depression.

And yet, most leave of absences in the work place, most sick leave is due to mental illness caused by stress of the workplace, by the ruthless pursuit to make profits at the expense of compassion, human decency, by the ridiculous workload and expectations of the employer—in the name of making profit at the expense of the well-being of the worker. In short, the worker is seen as just a cog in the wheel of making a fortune for the select few. And so, the seeds of mental illness are planted in the workplace far too often.

The stigma of mental illness is also perpetuated by the media. Often when someone commits an outlandish crime, the person is mentally ill. When it’s reported in the press or on television, the story is sensationalized. As a result, the public quickly learns to associate the bizarre behaviour, deviant behaviour, criminal act with mental illness. A good case in point is the sensational coverage in the news media of the man who jumped in a truck and ran over a cop in Toronto this past winter. As I recall, the assailant was not taking his anti-psychotic medication for schizophrenia, the worst form, the most desperate type of mental illness. And so the stereotype emerges.

There’s a huge stigma in all parts of society against those who suffer from some form of mental illness. People tend to” blame the victim”, or see mental illness as a “weakness in character”. Others see the person suffering from mental illness as “crazy”. Most people don’t understand mental illness. They’ve never educated themselves. They’ve never taken a course in abnormal behaviour or psychology. So many of their ideas about mental illness are medieval.

People with mental illness are too often stereotyped as “nut bars”, “weirdos”, “head case” by friends, family, and society. The fact of the matter is that most people who get help with psychotherapy and medication can lead normal lives. A good example is Margaret Trudeau who suffered from Bipolar Disorder for many years. Britney Spears is another. Robin Williams is another. They all suffer from mental illness—-and they’ve been treated, and are now living normal lives.

As a society, we need to put more effort into educating the public about mental illness, in order to remove the stigma. The corporation must do more to reduce the absurd workload of its employees, reduce stress in the workplace, train managers on treating their employees ” as the most important resource” they have. As well, both the Federal and Provincial Governments must do more to fund health care for the mentally ill. It is a huge social problem that has been ignored far too long.


About Dave Hood

Lover of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction. Professional photographer and writer. Without the arts, life would be rather mundane, like a walk down the same old path on a dull day.
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