CAMH Wants You To Know, 'It's Okay To Not Be Okay'
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CAMH Wants You To Know, ‘It’s Okay To Not Be Okay’

One Brave Night aims to encourage discussion about mental health

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Starting a conversation on mental health. Two young Toronto women, Vasiliki Marapas and Meghan Yuri Young, are the brains behind the Sad Collective. Photo via CAMH.

If you look down and pay close attention to the pavement in Toronto, you’re likely to find stenciled graffiti that tells you: “It’s okay not to be okay.”

The street art is the creative work of The Sad Collective, a movement to create safe spaces and forums for people to be vulnerable, to be sad. It began a year ago when founders Meghan Yuri Young and Vasiliki Marapas found themselves doing what most people do every day: getting up and going to work. But they weren’t feeling fine. Both women had recently ended relationships and neither of them were feeling creatively fulfilled. “There was this expectation from me to say that I was doing well, that I was doing fine,” says Marapas. “But I couldn’t deliver on that expectation because I was in such a negative [head] space.” Young says, “We wanted to put up a brave face, but that erodes eventually, and you still feel hopeless.”

So, Young, 32, and Marapas, 25, set out to fight the taboo against anyone admitting that they’re struggling. They decided to use social media to help set up a community to share their personal sad stories. In Humans of New York style, The Sad Collective team goes around the city asking people, “What makes you feel vulnerable?”

The idea is to fuel the change that people want to see. “We’re living in a cult of optimism. There’s such an emphasis on being happy and being positive that we don’t realize that sadness is a necessary human emotion,” says Marapas.

The results of their project have been positive. They now have more than 1,500 followers on Instagram and the sidewalk message, “It’s okay to not be okay,” has been well received. Other sidewalk quips included, “This is your happy place,” and “We’re all in this together.”

#repost: I had an incident at work today that left me shaken up. Instead of pretending everything was okay, I took 2 minutes to myself, I centered myself, and I reminded myself that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to, when feeling threatened, to say no. It’s okay to say no, period. It’s okay to walk away. Is okay to take a minute, or two, or five, to yourself. At okay to acknowledge a trigger, reflect on it and move on. But don’t you dare stay in that space. You cannot help everyone and that’s okay. #soshiva

A post shared by THE SAD COLLECTIVE (@thesadcollective) on

Is Mental Health Having a Moment?

“It’s increasingly becoming okay to talk about imperfections and not feel like you’re victimizing yourself or others by sharing these emotions,” says Young. Part of this comes from the openness with which pop culture figures, such as Adele or Chance the Rapper, are sharing their experiences with depression or anxiety, or online campaigns like The Sad Collective and other Twitterbot accounts reminding users to take a break and drink some water, or even television shows set up entirely on the issue.

Collectively, these movements have started the shift towards normalizing the idea of mental illness, as well as reduce dismissive attitudes. “Opening the dialogue has helped reduce the stigma, which has encouraged mental health promotion, as well as prevention, and, most importantly, early intervention,” says Dr. Katy Kamkar, a psychologist with CAMH.

Kamkar believes that more initiatives like The Sad Collective will help educate people to seek treatment for depression or anxiety, rather than hide in isolation. She thinks it has and will continue to eradicate the self-stigma that so many use to dismiss their mental health.

But while the conversation is growing and attitudes towards the issue are changing, stigma still persists.

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According to a 2008 survey, only 50 per cent of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68 per cent who would talk about a family member having diabetes. A 2014 study found that 39 per cent of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem. And 40 per cent of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.

The mental health movement is fairly recent but it is growing rapidly. In the last couple of years, employers and organizations have started to set up programs specifically to educate workers about mental health. “We need these because in any given week, 500,000 Canadians are unable to go to work because of mental health conditions,” says Kamkar.

Thousands will Participate in One Brave Night

This year, CAMH’s One Brave Night for Mental Health initiative—a Canada-wide movement that asks everyone to dedicate one night to support those with mental illness by raising funds and awareness—will take place on April 7, also regarded as World Health Day. Now in its third year, the event hopes to build momentum on funding and research for the cause.

Unlike physical illnesses like cancer, which have a universality in treatment and regard, everyone treats and deals with depression differently. “A physical illness is no one’s fault, but mental health has a degree of victim blaming,” says Marapas. That’s why The Sad Collective has partnered with CAMH for One Brave Night, to help raise the awareness levels for mental illness to “get the kind of support breast cancer has.”

“Our mental health is essential to who we are,” says Marapas, “We shouldn’t have to hide it and wonder when the right time is to talk about it.”

CAMH One Brave Night for Mental Health™ is a Canada-wide challenge to share one night to inspire hope for the one in five Canadians living with mental illness in any given year. Find our more here.