By Hilary Caton
It’s time to level the playing field.
It’s time that mental health in Canada is given the same priority as physical health because—after all—Mental Health is Health.
It’s a simple line that’s the foundation of CAMH’s latest public advocacy campaign, launched during Mental Health Week.
It aims to push for the elimination of discrimination, ignorance, as well as funding gaps in our mental health system.
It didn’t take long before the campaign caught the attention one of Canada’s most decorated rowers, Silken Laumann.
Known for one Canada’s most memorable Olympic moments at the Games in Barcelona in 1992, Laumann came back from a horrifying rowing accident that ripped her leg apart just 10-weeks prior to winning bronze for Team Canada.
“The idea that Mental Health is Health, will force a paradigm shift for a lot of people,” Laumann says.
“The thought that all health is created equal, so to speak, and that we have a right to good support in our mental health system, which is our health system, is crucial.”
What spoke to her most when she saw the campaign, she says, is the connection CAMH made between mental health and physical health.
“They are very connected because often when you have a physical crisis you also go through a mental crisis. They go together,” Laumann explains.
“Maybe it’s the lens I’m viewing things through (as an athlete), but that really spoke to me. I just love the health is health line. The fact we’re trying to bring these two silos together requires a breadth of paradigm shifts, it’s not only that we have to sync these two, which I agree with, but it’s also time to see them integrated.”
The campaign roll out not only included ads that Torontonians would be able to see on billboards and bus shelters across the city, but there’s also a television commercial and three videos from former NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch, three time cancer survivor Rabi Qureshi, sharing their stories of their battle with a mental illness. The powerful videos also struck a chord with Laumann.
“Their journeys and stories deserve to be respected and I think they certainly illicit that compassion and respect when I watched and listened to them,” she says.
“The people’s stories are so powerful—all of those individuals highlighted in the campaign are really strong and remarkable humans. The beautiful soul who had cancer so many times.. I can’t even imagine. Of course that would take a toll on your mental health. I can’t imagine anyone going through all that without having a deep impression on their mental health.”
Laumann is no stranger to mental illness
In any given year, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness, including addiction.
Laumann faced it twice.
She battled anorexia as a teen, and then in her 40s she came face to face with depression after retiring from the Olympics. She eventually built up the nerve and courage to say, “I need help,” and sought out a licensed professional in Victoria, British Columbia where she currently lives. She takes depression and anxiety medication to help manage both. Luckily, she had the supports she needed to get help at the time, but she believes the health care system still has a long way to go when it comes to holistic care that includes mental health.
“It’s your physical, it’s your mental, it’s your spiritual (health). It just seems like we’re still in the dark ages with it; for every step forward we’re making there’s a lot that still needs to be done,” Laumann says, adding that the funding gap for these services for Canadians is also “pretty stark.”
“The way I’ve lived my life, the physical and the mental are so connected that’s actually what health is to me. If you have a physical issue of course you’ll go to the hospital and people will talk about your health and guide you through the process, but if you have an issue that’s mental you’re on your own. It shouldn’t be this way anymore.”
Laumann believes CAMH is on the right track.
“There are some mental health campaigns out there that don’t resonate as much for me,” Laumann admits.
“So I think this is a great campaign. Mental Health is Health. It resonates with me.”
Photo Credit: Jesse Holland