Is Mental Health Awareness the "Civil Rights Issue of Our Era?"

Updated on March 7, 2018
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

Love And DeRozan

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I don't follow sports. It's not that I don't particularly enjoy them; I used to play touch football with my friends when I was growing up as well as softball, and have played indoor soccer with friends as an adult. I just find now that I am an adult, I have so little time to actually sit and watch a game, whether it's on television or otherwise, that I haven't really gravitated to any one sport.

When professional athletes start talking about issues like mental health awareness, though, I find my interest is piqued. These are individuals who a lot of youth and adults admire, so when they're making the decision to discuss mental health, whether it's their own mental health or mental health in society, I'm intrigued.

I was reading Newsweek and when I saw that Kevin Love, a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, said that he had been struggling with his own mental health and with the decision to actually come forward with an admission that he was struggling, I was struck with just how relatable he sounded. According to the article, Love was worried that if he revealed how he felt, his teammates and coaches with think he was less reliable.

He went on to talk about DeMar DeRozan's decision to discuss depression in a Toronto Star interview. DeRozan is an all-star who plays with the Toronto Raptors. Love noted that the DeRozan interview opened his eyes to just how universal problems with mental health seemed to be, as he said he never would have been able to tell that DeRozan had any sort of mental health struggle and said that sometimes, mental health challenges can be incredibly isolating.

“It really makes you think about how we are all walking around with experiences and struggles [...] and we sometimes think we’re the only ones going through them," Love said. “I’m not saying everyone should share all their deepest secrets—not everything should be public and it’s every person’s choice. But creating a better environment for talking about mental health […] that’s where we need to get to.”

Even now, as we move towards greater conversations about mental health, there are still those who don't quite get it. There are those who believe that those who have mental health troubles should "get over it" or "suck it up" or whatever the case may be, and that is in no small part due to fear about the topic.

In the lead up to Bell Let's Talk Day at the end of January, I remember comedian Howie Mandel saying something to the effect that if we were to talk about our mental health the way we discuss our dental health, we probably would not have the stigma associated with mental health ailments that we do. He's not wrong. I still see students on the daily for whom getting through each day can be a dog fight. I know adults who are working so hard to try and get through what they need to do just because they might be fighting hard against whatever mental health issues they might be dealing with.

There's also the stigma against taking medications for mental health issues, and that's also terribly concerning. For some, taking medications to regulate their biochemistry (as that might also have an influence on their mental health) means they have a new lease on life. While I had to make the choice to wean myself off of Effexor, which I was taking due to anxiety and had to stop (under a nurse practitioner's supervision and guidance) due to sleeping all of about three hours a night for about two to three years, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who absolutely require these medications in order to not just survive life but actually live.

It's awesome that there are more athletes coming forward with their own tales of mental health challenges and what it costs them on an emotional level to actually make the decision to talk about it. We have to remember that the more we talk about mental health struggles and stigma, the stigma will eventually ease. We have to keep the conversation going not just for our own sakes, but for those of the generation coming behind us, because if we don't keep talking, nothing will get better.

Discrimination against those who are dealing with mental health challenges will continue.

Judgment will continue to be made.

Those dealing with mental health problems will continue to hide, and they shouldn't.

We need to continue to create an environment where talking about your mental health is no different than talking about your latest bruises or your busted foot. It shouldn't feel like people are going to judge or make comments if you're about to admit you need help.

So talk. Support each other. Lean when you need to.

We got this.

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