Psychology Sociology

The Value of Mental Health Awareness

In recent years, the concept of mental health has gained traction, helping to reduce the stigma. As Canada observes Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to contribute to the conversation by considering why awareness is so important. After all, what does awareness get us? Does simply having everyone aware of something solve real problems? I want to address the “so what” question, when it comes to mental health awareness.

So what is awareness good for? Think of the days before we were aware of things like anxiety, depression, OCD, BPD, Schizophrenia, addiction, and PTSD. It’s not that these problems didn’t exist; we just didn’t have insight into why people were engaging in apparently self-destructive or anti-social behaviors, nor did we have the language to talk about it. Rather than viewing them as suffering from an illness, we attributed their behavior to either moral failings or insanity.

During the early pre-awareness days, if you had a mental health issue, you were labeled disturbed, nuts, confused, psycho, crazy, loony, demanding, or had a screw loose. If you appeared, from the outside, to be in control, you were weak, immoral, evil, lazy, or selfish. If you appeared to be out of control, you were thought to be insane, mad, or suffering from mania. These people were feared, like criminals; they were locked up in prison-like buildings or sentenced to death.

Growing up with a mental disorder, children were ridiculed by their peers, punished by their parents, and chastised by their teachers or clergy. The pervasive negative response further fueled the downward spiral of shame of isolation. Problematic thoughts and behaviors that could be managed by cognitive techniques or neurochemical adjustment were criminalized. But, just like getting tough on crime, getting tough on mental illness does not solve the underlying issue.

When we recognize that the underlying issue is not simply poor character, weak-will, or immorality, we come to see mental health the same way we see physical health: a problem that is not necessarily the fault of the individual and can be managed by a trained professional. Like a patient undergoing cancer treatment, a person suffering from a mental illness is now commonly accepted as a patient requiring psychological treatment. Although stigma still exists, persons who are suffering may now have a second chance.

This is the power of an accepting social environment. This is the power of awareness.

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  1. Mental health awareness is to promote prosperous mental well being. On the other hand it is an awareness of mental illness/conditions. Thus both sides of the coin. You would think that 1 in 4 people in a life time will have mental illness, more awareness would be sought. Stigma still exists however if one stands up to small incidents and politely challenges there thoughts, behaviour and therefore educate them can only be good. Some gp’s, employers et al become afraid when mental health is brought up as being mentally ill is so complex to treat albeit in the severe cases such as bipolar etc known also as a brain disease. I believe awareness should be taught from early age in schools. Loved article

  2. This is great. Awareness can really change the stigma. I’m trying to promote the same attitudes. Would you mind if I share this post on my blog?

  3. My 53 year-old husband is on day 5 at a mental health facility after “snapping” “going off” and the very real suicide attempt. Was this “out of the blue”? Yes, for me is was, for him, I’m assuming not so much. What I’ve learned over the past 5 days is this: The mental health care in this country is what I would bluntly call fucked up. I’m not sure why these facilities are made to look like prisons or how anyone could possibly think that this type of environment would make anyone feel better about themselves. I can’t wrap my head around why we waited 2 days for a bed in this prison, while the door is revolving to withdrawing drug addicts. I can’t understand why a psychiatrist wouldn’t know that my husband was a new admission until day 3 or why I had to spend 4 hours on the phone trying to straighten out the mess. Why is a social worker telling me that my husband “probably won’t be here too long?” Was it because she couldn’t believe “how nice he looked and how he was wearing nice glasses” Honestly, what does that even mean? Oh, in case you’re wondering, my husband in one of the top facilities.
    All I know is my life will never again be what it was last Tuesday.

  4. Really good article. Although there are more and more organizations try to help people who have mental health issue but it still a long way to go. The pressure from school, social life and family cause the high rate of suicide. I saw research shows that one in every five children has been found to suffer from mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization, this number is expected to increase by at least 50 percent by the year 2020, with cases of neuropsychiatric disorders increasing. So it is really important to help them as early as possible! That is why I run the blog to increase the mental health awareness of kindergarten parents too.

  5. I’m new to blogging, but not new to struggling with me own mental health issues. For over 18 years now anxiety and depression has been something I face daily. I’m so glad to see awareness of mental health issues on the rise. Over in the UK, my biggest concern right now is the lack of funding and help available to people struggling with mental health. It really is a global issue and something that needs far more investment in, be that for research, awareness and treatment etc.

  6. Thank you, it was refreshing to read this. Mental health is almost an ironic title considering so often psych professionals tend to evaluate deficiencies instead of strengths. Thank you for your succinct thoughts 😊

  7. Awareness is important is important, as long as what is being made aware is a true representation of the illness. For example, I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, not many people are aware of this diagnosis and what it entails. In January 2017, a new film featuring James McAvoy, called ”split” is a horror/thriller film, based on Dissociative Identity Disorder – It will no doubt, make people more ‘aware’ or the diagnosis – But it certainly isn’t going to help people suffering with it.

  8. I think awareness is really important. Talking about mental illnesses tells people who secretly suffer from them that they can talk about it, as well as giving them knowledge about what is happening to them. A lot of people with mental illnesses never even know it.

  9. Steve, I absolutely agree that awareness is one of the biggest first steps in reducing the stigma against conditions like bipolar and PTSD. Where I grew up in Kenya, there wasn’t words for such conditions, so mental illness was feared by some as demon possession. However, after returning to the West, I’ve discovered that even individuals who are well educated on the scientific particulars of mental illness continue to harbor extreme stereotypes against the mentally ill. Why do you think that may be the case?

  10. Good article. I also think there is an issue with all of information available on the internet. If you read all about depression, you might start to think that you have it when you don’t. If you convince yourself that you do then eventually you will. This could have been prevented by simply not obsessing. Check out my new blog at

  11. A good article, stressing the benefits of being aware of mental illness, symptoms, treatments, etc. However, all these things are just that: about mental illness. The title of your article is “The Value of Mental Health Awareness”, not “mental illness awareness”. As a mental health practitioner I find this distinction often lost on both the public and practitioners alike. I think it is important we do develop a realization, an understanding of what is “mental health”. We are much better at identifying mental illness, but mental health… It’s possibly a tough question, one that I’m sure can find itself subjectively interpreted and answered in many different ways. Yet, I think it can be done.

  12. I agree that society has come some way towards a more acceptable position of mental health conditions. There is still a long way to go. My approach–I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and PTSD–is stigma be damned. I refuse to be silent about it, to suffer in “quiet desperation” as Thoreau would have put it. I admit to suffering from mental health conditions and let people figure that out for themselves. It doesn’t make it easier to live–I still live with the impression that I have somehow failed or am weak, but my wife supports me and says I’m sick, not weak. Fortunately, I have also received better medical treatment in the sense of support, possibly aided by the fact that I live in Ottawa, where the military community is so large and have likely provided similar experiences to the mental health care community. Steve, keep it up.

  13. And because we are now, more accepting to these mental conditions, the taboos on people who have these conditions are reduced, and yet, there are still a lot of folks who needed the treatments but don’t seek out counsel, because mental illness is linked to thinking that someething is wrong with oneself, and NO one wants to admit, that something about oneself isn’t right…

  14. Reblogged this on I am Monika M. and commented:
    “When we recognize that the underlying issue is not simply poor character, weak-will, or immorality, we come to see mental health the same way we see physical health: a problem that is not necessarily the fault of the individual and can be managed by a trained professional. Like a patient undergoing cancer treatment, a person suffering from a mental illness is now commonly accepted as a patient requiring psychological treatment.” – Steve Rose.

      1. Yes. The label, or even the talk of mental illness and the experience, is stigma/stigmatized. It makes it hard to move forward in life and cope with the disease in a healthy way …

        1. For sure. It is a difficult topic requiring a great deal of attention to detail and emphatic listening. Perhaps everyone focuses too much on the “let’s talk” and “#get loud,” two popular Canadian references, whereas they need to focus more on something closer to “let’s listen.”

          1. I agree. I’m not worried about a huge shift in cultural consciousness, as that will take time, but I just want to have a happy life, even with a mental illness. The illness itself brings me suffering but I can usually cope, but … when others don’t understand I get alienated and stereotyped harshly. I also get stigmatized a lot by healthcare providers. It seems to me stigma has made it hard to do the things I enjoy in life and to reach my goals and do the things I like to do. But I’m obviously not giving up.

  15. On the other hand, I can argue that mental illness is not inborn but created by a crazy-making, sado-masochistic, hypocritical society that feeds failure and punishes success. Children are taught to lie, suppress, repress, and otherwise contain legitimate emotion such that it festers like an abscess under the surface, then erupts in inappropriate behavior.

    The health care racket (including mental health care) fosters stereotyping and pigeonholing into diagnostic categories, good for billing but terrible for self-esteem or any hope of cure. A saner approach to mental health would be to focus more on strengths and interests, such that the emotional issues become integrated into the larger picture.

    The current paradigm locks people into a rigidly judgmental framework that stifles individuality, initiative, and creativity, with the result that it offers no hope of cure and keeps people in a perpetual state of dependency on drugs to anesthetize uncomfortable emotions.

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