From a young age, we are taught to become active members of society. Students attend school to train for our careers, whereby we work every weekday for 65 years until we retire. That’s the norm, the standardized way of life we have become so accustomed to. But what about those of us, one in eight, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, who suffer or have suffered with mood disorders including depression and borderline personality disorders (BPD)?

Mental health awareness has increased drastically in the last decade, increasing societal understanding of these types of illnesses. In fact, according to the Canadian Education Association, mental illness is now being introduced into school curriculums. However, in its quest to become more informed in regards to mental illness, society has rarely taken the opportunity to understand how those suffering with mental illness view society.

“I don’t think we’re ever really equipped for society,” says Stephanie Royle, a 26-year-old who suffers from severe depression, BPD, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Royle explains that our education system teaches us at a young age to be nice to others, but not why that is so important.

Royle states, “I was never taught how to mentally and emotionally deal with society.” This is a skill most people go day to day taking for granted, not thinking about how easily they can wake up and go to work five days a week. Those with mental illness don’t always have that luxury and in return feel less about their selves for not rising to the standardized expectations of those around them.

“I’m envious… I wish I knew how to relate better to everyone as a whole,” says Royle. Stephanie feels that she can’t relate to the general public and others in her community unless they too suffer from mental illness. Although awareness is increasing, Royle still feels as though she needs to hide her illnesses and “be the person society expects [her] to be.”

Royle describes everyone as having a relationship with the rest of their community; “you know what your community expects of you, and you give back by living up to that expectation.” Yet, society is unaware of how to handle a person with a mental illness.

“I want a relationship with society,” Royle says, “I need them to not only understand what I’m going through, but also to know what I expect from them in return.” As an equal member of society, Royle doesn’t want the added burden of behaving in a way that brings comfort to those around her.

“I’m the me that I feel I’m supposed to be in public.” In fact, those suffering with mental illness must also train themselves to be ‘normal’. In a community that doesn’t possess a rounded understanding of mental health, those like Stephanie Royle can’t act on what is natural to them. This affects all public manner, including the workplace.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states, “Mental illnesses cost Canadian employers billions of dollars in absenteeism or sick days, ‘presenteeism’ (coming to work even when the employer can’t work well), disability and other benefits, and lost productivity.” CMHA explains that mental illness can negatively affect the confidence of an employee and with added pressures and stressors from an employer with little understanding of the situation, everyone involved suffers either emotionally or financially.

Royle assures, “Things are starting to change, slowly but surely.” As a full-time daycare employee, Royle’s employer understands and encourages her to come forward whenever she feels as though she can’t perform at the expected level. This takes a massive weight of pressure off Royle and allows her to be able to push herself forward without the fear of disappointing. Royle knows her limits, knows how to strengthen them and understands her role in her relationship with surrounding community.

Mental illness affects more than just those being diagnosed. Equipping yourself with information to understand your community strengthens the relationship between people and their society. Access to facts on mental health is available to anyone who seeks it. Reputable sources include: Canadian Mental Health Association, Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Alliances on Mental Illness and Mental Health and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Those suffering with mental illness actively contribute to the relationship between society and individual, and it is important that society begins to give back. Educating yourself is a very important step. The more you know about something, the more understanding and patience you gain. Apart from the above listed websites, speaking to someone with personal experience is an amazing way to further your knowledge. Now, of course, the stigma surrounding mental illness still casts some into silence; however, there are many people who are more than happy to share their own trials.

Read up, speak out, and start listening.

By Nicole Royle

Please note that opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.