This week, Sunnybrook Hospital launched its Let’s Face This campaign which coincides with Mental Illness Awareness Week. The campaign is designed to disseminate information to the public about mental illness as well as document lives affected by mood and anxiety disorders, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological conditions. Operating a bit like an internet version of AA, the site offers an online support group, where participants can post a photo of themselves and offer some encouraging words to others afflicted. It was created in response to the more than ten million Canadians dealing with various forms of mental illness, as a chance to raise awareness and funds to try to tackle both the maladies as well as the stigmas associated with persons hobbled by psychological ailment.
Queen West’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s recent redevelopment programme is a perfect execution of normalizing the issue of mental illness. By de-institutionalizing patients and instead offering them suites in a new apartment complex, the Centre has helped to break down physical and sociological barriers in the neighbourhood, by introducing through-streets, cafés, and shops. Giving the public a reason to share the new space with those being treated, it blurs the line between the Centre’s residents and the rest of the community. Why bother? The main CAMH building has had a bank machine just inside its lobby doors for years (the only first-party machine for some distance), but because of its location, locals who knew about it would usually opt to use more expensive, less convenient ATMs, as if their walking into the facility would automatically make them nuts.
To compound problems, Hollywood has done mental health a tremendous disservice by contrarily romanticizing lunacy, giving it a chic edge. As films routinely showcase the classic “tortured soul” as anti-hero fashion plate, the severity of mental illness is discounted. It is a grim reality hijacked as iconography. In truth, few things are as difficult to deal with as mental health problems; they’re burdensome, they’re exhausting, and more to the point, they make getting your shit together very difficult—an uphill battle for those who want only to be balanced. Let’s Face This allows people to identify themselves for their attributes rather than their deficiencies and forces viewers to accept participants on the site for who they are: regular people who happen to have problems. Those beset by cancer receive the support and condolences one would expect. Unfortunately, those who speak to themselves are simply avoided. It shouldn’t be like that.
Illustration by Jake Bauming.