Mental health has come a long way to being understood by those affected and those who are not in Canada. However, there is still a long way to go in both the general public and how it is portrayed in media. 

The traditional view of those without mental illness or those who are unaware or unwilling to realize they have some unresolved issues or conditions, is that mental health challenges mean one is described as “crazy, psycho, deranged or insane.” 

Discussions about visiting a “shrink” or psychiatrist mean laying on a couch with some older bearded man looking reminisent of either a bearded Sigmund Feud or a balding Carl Jung asking about “how did that make you feel?” If people found out you were going to counselling, it meant you were avoided socially.

Now in the last number of years a lot of work has been done by organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association which has got the word out about mental illness and looking after one’s mental health. It is in a much more realistic light and while it is over the top positive, at least the public is more willing to talk about mental health issues. It is more commonplace, ore normal. However there are times when the old naive and ignorant thinking comes to light and sometimes viciously. 

Take for example, Rosie DiManno, a Toronto Star columnist who wrote a column aptly titled “I spent the night in a homeless encampment and saw the twin urban plagues: mental illness and housing shortage.”

The story describes how the columnist went undercover into an area where hundreds of homeless people in Toronto have said up a camp, pretended she was a homeless person and then proceeded to mill about and talk to a few people, then she hand selected the most salacious of people and then went on to negatively describe their situations. 

Having very brief conversations or encounters, she barely got to know any of them. The article features a bunch of snap judgments which often alluded to her being in danger or being surrounded by people who were mentally unstable, just ready to lose control at any second or at best they were scrounging for money or were socially awkward. 

She never describes how many people she talked to, you are just aware she faking her reason for being there. The logic being that she would get the real story of what these homeless camps were really like by pretending to be down on their luck. 

With the attitude and the mindset, DiManno is warning others of the cesspool of evil and desperation which exists in such areas. 

Negative connotations with words and descriptions such as feral, racist, plagues, and bristles with tension describes a menacing presence these souls in this area have.

The article leaves the reader feeling fearful of not only those who are hurting socio-economically but also fearful of those who apparently all have mental health issues. 

Not one was described with any understanding, compassion or empathy, just disdain and fear. The only shallowest of characteristics were featured with them being somehow intoxicated or intimidating.

Mental illness equals criminal was the theme and after she describes going home to her big brass bed and leaving the tent behind… aka sucks to be you… the progress and compassion mental health made was dialled back 10 to 15 years. DiManno is no hack. She has won or been nominated multiple times for journalistic excellence and has been writing since 1975.

She described this microcosm of people as being unsympathetic criminals who have no future and need to be feared and avoided. She provides small amounts of detail of how they are there and a few statistics. The mental illness is a small, concentrated problem which needs to be eradicated somehow so those affluent don’t to deal with it. 

Only those with socio-economic challenges, who then subsequently must be mentally disturbed fund there way to such an area. 

In fact, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association one in five people “will personally experience a mental health problem or illness”. By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness. 

The CMHA says mental health issues are “complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors causes mental illnesses.”

Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds and is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.

For those with mental illness, it is not that easy both from a socio-economic point of view, but more importantly from a state of mind point of view. 

All those who have mental illness are not to be feared, loathed or treated a certain way. To be called a plague is disgusting. 

Mental health matters. Mental health is important to everyone. The old stereotypes are hard to shake, especially if the media themselves are rekindling the old flames of fear of what mental illness erroneously and supposedly looks like. 

Driving people who need help into the shadows can only do harm to them and those who love them. 

Mental health advocates have done well in changing stereotypes but sadly it is still two steps forward and one step back. 

Ryan Dahlman is the managing editor of Prairie Post

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