Did you know nearly one in five Canadians will encounter mental health issues in their lifetime? To put this in perspective, in your Statistics 151 class of 100 students, 20 of them either currently, or will have issues with their mental health at some point. Every person alive will somehow be touched by mental health, either personally or through someone close to them.
So why are these statistics important? Mental health carries the weight of significant social stigma, which makes awareness challenging. As university students, we are disproportionately at risk for many mental health concerns, yet it is a topic many of us are afraid to talk about. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the average age of onset of schizophrenia is between late adolescence and age 25. That means that a large proportion of the university student population is at the prime age to experience the onset of schizophrenia, and approximately one out of every hundred people will be affected by this illness. Think back to the example of your 100 person Stats 151 class, and I think you’ll get the picture pretty fast.
Another important issue for the university student population is suicide. Nearly 4000 Canadians age 15 to 24 die prematurely from suicide. As university students, we are particularly vulnerable. Stress, anxiety, depression, and psychosis may seem like the norm, particularly around midterm season; however, this should not be the case. When you look at the statistics on mental health in the 15 to 24 year old age range, it truly makes mental illness a tangible and real concept.
As a nursing student, I have learned a significant amount about mental health. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is that when you are concerned that someone may be at risk for suicide, ask them directly if they plan on taking their own life. Although this seems like a shockingly blunt way of dealing with a sensitive subject, you may be surprised to hear that if someone has a plan to kill themselves, if confronted, often they will confide.
While today is Mental Health Awareness day, we should really consider every day to be mental health awareness day. My message to you is that mental health is not a scary topic to talk about. Talk about your own mental health with friends, family, loved ones, a counselor, or whoever you feel comfortable talking to. And don’t be afraid to ask your friends about their mental health. Although it may seem like a taboo subject, just being present and listening to a friend could be the action that saves their life.