Getting Loud for Mental Health Week

By: Jack Xu

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mental health is ubiquitous. Just like physical health, we all ‘have’ it; some of us may have poorer mental health, due to the presence of some mental illness, but we are all impacted by it and able to feel mental health via our wellbeing. Extending this to mental illness and disorders, if you are to prescribe to a relatively newer way of thinking among psychologists and other professionals in the mental health arena, mental distress can be viewed as something that exists on a spectrum shared with normality, how ever you might wish to define normal. This is all to say there is no one single thing that mental health should be. While a professional athlete at the peak of their career exemplifies excellent physical health, it’s hard to come by an analogous example of someone’s mental health, because mental health is just so malleable. It’s a somewhat cloudy topic, but one that needs to be discussed.

In the United States, May is Mental Health Awareness Month; the month of raising awareness and conducting outreach was first established in 1949 by the National Association for Mental Health (today, Mental Health America). Each year has a theme, with this year’s being 4Mind4Body, discussing the relationship between ones mind and body, and ways to maintain good mental health, such as meditation, therapy animal companionship, work-life balance, etc. In Canada, the CMHA celebrates Mental Health Week, this year taking place May 6-12. While the CMHA speaks of mental health as a state, it also describes it as an important personal journey. On their website, they say, “We can all have good mental health. It is about having a sense of purpose, strong relationships, feeling connected to our communities, knowing who we are, coping with stress and enjoying life. And it’s never too early or too late to get there.” Their campaign slogan for 2019 is #GetLoud, encouraging people to talk about what mental health means to them, and how to maintain their well-being. However, the campaign raises a similar issue to what MCIS covered when celebrating #BellLetsTalk day; how can people #GetLoud if they don’t have the means to communicate?

The 2016 Canadian census found that more than 1 in 5 Canadians are foreign-born and arrived in Canada via immigration; 72.5 percent of immigrants reported a non-English/French mother tongue. Immigration to Canada obviously continues, as does refugee entry. If I were a Canadian newcomer unable to speak either of the official languages, and who originates from a country where mental health is a tabooed topic, highly stigmatized, and often mischaracterized, then how can I contribute to such a campaign? Who is informing such individuals about the meaning behind #GetLoud? Who is telling them that here, in their new home, it is increasingly acceptable to not always feel happy, to talk about not feeling happy, and to seek help and support for these reasons. And not only is it increasingly acceptable, but increasingly encouraged. As asserted in the opening to this piece, the CMHA’s perspective on mental health is that everyone has it. So then, everyone should also be able to discuss it, improve it, and increase their understanding of it.

The CAMH Foundation says that Ontario’s mental health care is underfunded by billions of dollars, and so individuals in an already vulnerable state may have a difficult time accessing services that they gravely need. Nevertheless, mental health professionals understand the importance of increasing accessibility of services with changing population needs. As such, CAMH and MCIS had teamed up to create a series of online tutorials for Interpretation in Mental Health and Autism Settings. Students enrolled in this course are taught a glossary of terms relevant to the field of mental health, practice these terms in context, and learn about protocols and procedures in mental health settings. If you are interested in learning more about the course or registering for it, click here.

Interpreters should also be mindful about their mental health and well-being. In late-April, MCIS shared an article on the ‘Cost of Caring,’ covering the vicarious trauma that language professionals can sometimes face following interpretation assignments covering traumatic topics. Learn more about vicarious trauma and how to protect yourself here.