Mental health needs community support

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There’s still a long way to go in ensuring mental health care is accessible to all — especially young men.

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In the report published last week by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a statistic that was of particular concern jumped out at me, the lack of men and boys who accessed mental health services.

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More than 60% of girls and young women, and 80% of transgender and non-binary children and youth were able to access services, which by all means is not a bad thing. However, we can’t forget about our young men, who need support just as much as any demographic.

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We already know that men and boys live in a culture of “toughen up” and things like “be a man” are said to many young boys in distress. It is something I struggle with to this day. Expressing how I feel and being honest and vulnerable with people close to me is a challenge. For some stupid reason, I feel weak for doing so.

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I know I’m not weak for expressing normal human emotions but it’s this nagging bug at the back of my head that tells me I’m less of a man. It’s not an easy thing, growing up, if you showed a shred of weakness you were ridiculed. Opening up and being vulnerable with my male friends was out of the question—and I know I’m not alone in that.

In all likelihood, accessing mental health care of my own is the way forward, but it’s not all that easy. The CIHI report also found that among all young people who accessed mental health services during the past six months, more than half said they were not easy to access.

CIHI reports that two out of five Canadians aged 15 and older said they always or usually had support navigating mental health and substance use services over the last year. That’s great for those who can get support but that leaves the remaining three out of five kids in the dark.

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This should serve as a reminder for parents, coaches, teachers, counselors or whoever to check in on kids and in particular — boys.

I know for myself as a child who struggled with my own mental health — mainly anxiety, a hand-up would’ve gone a long way. Things have changed since I was a kid, even if it wasn’t that long ago, and mental health wasn’t even something I was aware of.

People struggling with mental health issues are not always easy to spot. It’s not as obvious as a black eye or a sling, but to the person struggling, it certainly feels like a black eye.

This isn’t to say that people should suddenly start referring sad children to psychologists, but growing up is a hard thing — we should all be sympathetic to it. We can’t expect children and young people to just be fine and dandy because “they have it so much easier.”

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Young people have different challenges older generations never had to face, namely social media. The onus is on older generations to offer that lending hand of support, even if they don’t fully understand many of the problems that young people struggle with, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

Telling young people to get off their phones and enjoy the world may sound like the right advice but it’s not very empathetic. Imagine yourself growing up in a hyper-digitized world where appearance and looks matter so much coupled with a lack of human connection that has been especially difficult during the pandemic. It would be challenging for you, as well.

This report serves as a reminder that we need to look out for each other. It sounds cliché, but genuinely asking just one person how they’re doing can go a long way.

rstelter@postmedia.com

Twitter: @steltsy94

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