By Denise Leduc, Rankandfile.ca Writer
In honour of International Youth Day on Friday, August 12, SEIU-West’s Young Workers Committee (YWC) held a rally in Saskatoon to draw attention to issues surrounding mental health. The rally held next to University Bridge was aimed at fighting the stigma that is often associated with mental health. Organizers were also demanding more support for workers struggling with mental health issues from government and employers with the objective of creating safe spaces for discussion.
Approximately 6.7 million Canadians are said to suffer from mental illness. By the age of 40 half the population has, or will have had a mental illness. Young people between 15-24 are affected by mental illness more than any other age group. In Canada mental illness is the leading cause of disability and can reduce a person’s lifespan by by 10-20 years.
Speaking at the rally, YWC co-chair Hailey Johnson expressed her belief that young workers are under a lot of stress. She says they are trying to make do with less, are often highly educated but struggle to find jobs that match their skills. Instead many find themselves employed in precarious work, which can affect their mental health and wellbeing. Hailey says that people need to acknowledge that young people are experiencing mental health issues yet struggle to access support.
In Canada, only one in five young people in need of mental health support actually receive assistance. Hailey believes Saskatchewan requires more mental health workers to respond to this problem. She would like to see more proactive and preventative measures and see change from all levels of government and within local communities.
YWC co-chair Janell Kachuik spoke about the stigma associated with mental illness, and spoke openly about her own struggles. Janell reflects that the stigma around mental illness prevents some people from getting help. She adds that there needs to more discussion about safe spaces at work and in communities so that other young workers can speak openly about their struggles.
Both Hailey and Janell expressed concern about the challenges of accessing services in Saskatchewan. The wait time for people with mental health concerns is currently 12-18 months in the province. Additionally, people living in rural areas must travel long distances in order to get the required support. Even when a smaller town has professionals that can help, the stigma associated with mental illness, as well as the small-town culture where everyone knows everyone prevents many people from even seeking help.
“Everyone in town knows what that building is,” Janell says. “If people see you going in they know why you are there and might talk about you. Going there you don’t feel it’s confidential. It’s often better to travel long distances to a bigger city where nobody knows you.”
The YWC capped off the rally with a banner drop over the University Bridge. The banner read #YWFightStigma to kick off the YWC social media campaign. Follow along and share your thoughts, ideas and experiences about mental health on Twitter with #YWFightStigma.
SEIU-West YWC is also gathering ideas from the public to share with the government. You can contribute to the discussion here.