If you’ve suffered from mental illness before, chances are you recognize the signs when your mind starts heading down that dark path again. Recognizing and addressing these symptoms sooner than later can make all the difference in the world.

CAMH’s Dr. Katy Kamkar is a Clinical Psychologist with the Work, Stress and Health Program. We asked her what can be done to stem the tide of mental illness in this country.

SDTC: What should we be paying more attention to?

KK: We want to normalize the talk around mental illness so we are able to promote mental health and focus on prevention and early intervention. There is no need for people to suffer in silence. In the past five years, we have noticed a reduction in stigma; nevertheless, there is more work to be done.

Mental illness is something no one is immune to. Every single person is affected, either directly or indirectly. Just as people are comfortable talking about back pain, arthritis and diabetes, we also want to normalize the talk around mental illness because it is something that is affecting all of us.

How much does mental illness cost us?

Fifty-one billion annually is associated with mental health care costs. Thirty-five per cent of that is due to work disruptions because of mental health disabilities – increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, sick days, sick leave, short- and long-term disability – so again, we have to take responsibility.

How can we prevent mental illness?

Young people between 15 and 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group. Recent findings indicate that suicide is the second leading cause of death for that age group. Prevention is something that can occur at any time. As early as possible, to prevent the onset. But it can also occur throughout the course of an illness, to decrease the frequency, the intensity.

We need to focus on how can I promote my own mental health? How can I engage in self-care? What are some key signs I need to be aware of? Am I feeling off? Distressed? Am I having difficulty coping with what’s going on? It’s important to seek help and find out. If we are able to do that sooner, it does help to increase treatment outcomes; better prognosis and returning to a better level of function.

What are some misconceptions around mental illness?

We are focused on providing education. But when we talk about stigma, we also provide education around dismissive attitudes. For example, “Relax, stop worrying and just be happy.” If we have a broken arm, we can’t just go to sleep and feel better tomorrow. It’s the same thing.

Listening is important, showing acceptance, and providing any resources we are able to. It’s important to address dismissive attitudes because they can lead to self-stigma, where we internalize others’ beliefs and values. That turns into self-blame, which prolongs suffering in silence.

If we are struggling with addiction/mental illness, what would you like us to know?

There are effective treatments available. It’s important to seek help. There’s always hope. The earlier we seek help, the better the treatment outcome, prognosis and return to a healthier level of functioning.

Want to help? CAMH One Brave Night for Mental Health returns April 7 and once again asks Canadians to Step Up and Stay Up in support of mental illness. The annual challenge asks Canadians to give one night to support those living with mental illness and addiction by raising funds and awareness. Register here.