Remember when we were all in the Kindergarten sandbox? Sally was on one side and Joey was in the middle. Sometimes we threw sand because we didn’t know any better, and sometimes we fought over toys; but these were little things. We didn’t care that Joey still wore pull-ups occasionally or that Susie got night terrors. What if Jenny experienced separation anxiety when her mom left her or Billy kept all of his toys in a certain order that only he understood. We just didn’t care. That was the beauty of the sandbox. There were no mental cases, no retards, no whack jobs; nobody was loony tunes or nutso.
All we cared about was that it was playtime and there were friends in the sandbox. There was no judgement. None. Judgement grows, just like we do, as we align our minds with societal values. Would our experience be different if we could all just stay in the sandbox, or is judgement a fundamental part of human growth and development? I like to think not. For the most part, I have a Kindergarten sandbox outlook.
Mental illness is mostly unexpected and can happen to anyone at anytime, and it does not discriminate. Sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes it begins at different stages of life, sometimes it’s the result of an accident and sometimes it’s just the result of the difficulties, or of extreme circumstances, of living. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 20% of the population of Canada will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. In 2016 the population of Canada was just over 36 million people. That means that over 7 million people are affected at any given time. That number is staggeringly high, and many of these are youth ages 12 to 19. Many suffer in silence and fear and don’t seek treatment or support. Here’s some more interesting facts CMHA Fast Facts About Mental Illness.
So, if the prevalence is so high, why is it that mental illness is still so stigmatized? Why is there so little compassion for sufferers and so much judgment associated with it? And worse yet, why is it so easy and acceptable for people to make fun of it? Would we make fun of someone with a physical illness? Cancer? Multiple Sclerosis? The answer, of course, is that we wouldn’t.
I think part of the challenge is that people don’t see people; they see mental illness. People see differences in behaviour that they don’t understand, and they define people by their mental illness, as if mental illness is who they are, rather than a condition they suffer from that may or may not be permanent.
Can we go back to the sandbox? Maybe not entirely, but we can use it as a simple, but powerful reminder that we are all fundamentally the same, and that we can enjoy each other regardless of our struggles. Let’s create a new attitude surrounding mental illness; one that allows those that suffer the dignity and confidence to seek help when they need it and to live their lives with the fullness they deserve.