A friend shared with me recently that she has just been diagnosed with anxiety. So, let's see - carry the three, multiply by...Oh, forget it. I give up.
At this point I have stopped counting the number of close friends, colleagues, acquaintances, family members, etc. who have had or currently have a mental illness of some sort. This club just keeps growing. Mental illness is, without doubt, the disease of our time.
The statistic in Canada is one in five - 25% of Canadians have had or will have a mental illness sometime in their life. But I wonder about that number. What does it really mean? What about the ones who don't believe that mental illness is real? What about the ones who will never seek treatment let alone admit that anything is wrong? And what about the ones who don't have access to health care? A number without context never tells the real story.
I was questioning the accuracy of these numbers when I came across the recently published Washington Post article about the rates of mental illness around the world. The journal PLOS Medicine published a study that used data on the "prevalence, incidence and duration of depression to determine the social and public health burden of the disorder around the world." Their findings? Depression is the "second-leading cause of disability, with slightly more than 4 percent of the world's population diagnosed with it." That's right, second-leading cause of disability in the WORLD.
How do they know this? As the Washington Post article states, they couldn't exactly knock on every person's door and test them for clinical depression. Santa may be able to make it around the world in a night but it's not that easy for the rest of us. The researchers relied upon pre-existing data.
I won't go into the factors that influence rates of depression around the world - the Washington Post article does a great job of that. But what the author, Caitlin Dewey, concludes in her article is that with ageing and population growth not likely to slow down, neither will the problem - we need to address this issue. Dewey and I agree on that.
We also agree that without eliminating taboo & stigma and creating conversation, we'll never move forward to sufficiently turn this around. So I am going to challenge you, dear reader, to be a little bit brave. When you hear someone make a joke about mental illness, maybe don't laugh just because you think you should. If you think that someone near you may be suffering, let them know that you care - be available if they need to talk (without judgement). Ask questions, challenge the status quo. And if you are fighting mental illness, please seek medical help. You do not need to fight this alone.
We are all on a journey in this life. Maybe let's help each other along the way. Together, I know that we can create change.