Illustration by: Helen Sun

Today, one in every five people deal with mental health issues in Canada [1]. With such a high number of people affected by mental health issues, it would be fair to assume that there is also a large number of people who seek treatment for their mental health. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Due to stigmas and social taboos surrounding mental health, people are not seeking the necessary treatment.

Amongst stigmas and taboos surrounding mental health are those that greatly relate to gender. An unfortunate notion which is prevalent throughout many cultures that men are not meant to display emotions and that by doing so they are displaying a sign of weakness and a lack of emotional control. These beliefs are common in societies that value patriarchy, family honour, and respect for authority. Since these societies consider talking about or displaying emotions to be a sign of weakness, men do not seek help for their mental problems and instead choose to “tough it out”. Such an approach is dangerous as the pressure in these societies to provide for a family and keep a constant stoic mask is enough to cause someone to have a mental breakdown. This person stores the turmoil plaguing them in a box that breaks when the pressure becomes too unbearable. Once this person has displayed themself to the whole world, they are left bare and vulnerable. Instead of giving assistance to these people in need, many individuals will further enhance the problem by telling them to hide their problems and not seek the help they need. They pull away and disgrace them, portraying them as aliens for having feelings. All over the world, this is a reality, however, it is most common throughout the whole Asian continent, in Middle Eastern cultures as well as Latino cultures [2].

Like men, women in these cultures are also expected to suffer in silence. When these females complain, society perceives them to be ungrateful and their issues are made out to be invalid. They too are told to stuff their problems in a box and keep it hidden from the world. These cultures also deem women who voice their problems to be hysterical. They too are left to be vulnerable to the world, shunned simply because of their mental health. 

Many cultures such as those in East and Pacific Asia believe that many mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are due to weak character. According to, approximately 78% of elderly people in South Korea believe that having a mental health problem makes them weak [4]. 

It is extremely difficult to treat anyone suffering from mental health problems when they refuse to accept that there is a problem, to begin with. This strong sense of denial which results from stigmas and taboos found in culture is deep-rooted and internalized due to the beliefs which these communities hold. Consequently, many people belonging to these cultures fall deeper into whatever mental health problem they are facing. When such cultures bear down upon people, it causes anyone who is battling mental illnesses to hide what they are going through. It becomes near impossible for people to even confide in others because of the fear of social rejection. 

Some cultures also believe that having mental health problems are a result of hearing evil spirits or a punishment for not respecting their ancestors. Some also believe that it is a punishment from the divine due to sins. This spiritualism can cause stigmatization as people may treat the person suffering from a mental health problem as though they have bad morals, are spiritually weak, sinners, or so-called “backward” people.

On the other hand, some religions view mental health afflictions as a test of faith from God, which can actually reduce stigmatization. Some of these religions believe that God tests those who are close to him, which would actually end up reducing the shunning and social rejection which many people face [2]. 

However, in both of these situations, it is likely that these people are not seeking the treatment they need to be healthy. For a society whose spiritualism causes stigmatization, the affected person would likely be afraid to seek help. In the other situation, it is possible for a person to believe that his mental health problem is only for them to bear. In addition, many religious communities will simply encourage individuals suffering from mental illness to only work on their faith as a “cure” for their ailments. While practicing one’s faith can allow a person to feel as though they have renewed their spirituality, many people require professional treatment in addition to this in order to fully combat their mental ailments. 

In many Indigenous communities, there is a large concept of focusing only upon the present rather than the future [2]. Due to the large focus placed by the Indigenous community on the concept of “being” which has to do with developing one’s connection to their inner self and existence, there is less importance placed upon gaining things like wealth, education, and power [2]. Mental illness can hinder one’s ability to attain things such as wealth and education, but as there is less importance given to these things within Indigenous communities, it can reduce the stigmatization surrounding mental health and getting treatment. However, seeking professional treatment for mental ailments can be undesirable for Indigenous communities due to the terrible history between them and the settlers. The colonizers believed them to be archaic and barbaric which has caused the immense mistreatment of the Indigenous communities. The government still treats the Indigenous communities poorly by continuing to approach Indigenous affairs as secondary problems and turn a blind eye to their continued ill-treatment. Both the annihilation and assimilation techniques that the colonizers used upon the Indigenous peoples have led them to distrust government policies and institutions [3]. This has led the Indigenous community to suffer through many mental illnesses without seeking professional treatment as there is strong stigmatization against government-endorsed or funded systems and institutions [2]. 

Other factors that result in the stigmatization and taboos surrounding mental health and are largely a part of Western communities are materialism and capitalism. Since people in the west tend to have their value measured by their wealth or their ability to generate wealth, community members might treat those who have any mental illnesses as though they are incompetent. It is likely that they are constantly looked down upon or delegated to a lower social class since they are less likely to acquire wealth and material possessions which in the eyes of society makes them out to be a liability.

What is alarming is that according to a clinical psychology report from the University of Kentucky in the United States of America, not much research has been conducted on stigmas in the Western community [2]. 

It is also unfortunate that many people do not believe that mental health is a serious problem. It generally does not receive as much attention as physical ailments do; however, it is just as serious and it takes its toll on a person just as a physical injury would. 

As Canada is a country full of people from different ethnicities, many people will have their own stigmas surrounding mental health carried over from their respective cultures. It is important to keep cultural stigmas and taboos in mind as it can largely affect the treatment plans implemented by social workers and counselors. Many organizations gear their methods towards helping certain communities to come up with effective treatment plans for those respective communities. An example is Khalil Center, which is an organization that has tailored its treatment plans surrounding the Muslim community. Their treatments use ideas from Islamic theology which uses faith-based approaches that are in line with Islamic beliefs, while still utilizing science and proven psychology. The approach they utilize in their treatment plans is “not a strictly regimented or manualized therapeutic modality but rather provides general theoretical directions” using Islamic Spiritual Traditions such as meditation and prayer [5]. Services include counseling and therapy services as well as religious consultations that offer education on religious rulings with regards to Muslims with mental health issues or family concerns. Another example is  Hong Fook Mental Health Association which is an organization that specifically targets mental health concerns within the Cambodian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities [6].

Globally, it would be impossible to entirely eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health, but there are many small things that people can do to reduce stigmas in their own communities. This includes intervening when someone makes inappropriate jokes or comments and using social media to spread awareness. If you know someone who might be suffering from a mental illness, be there for them and remind them of the importance of seeking treatment and try to find options that are culturally acceptable for that person. Many phone and web options are available, and some are free of cost. 

Guidance counsellors are available in the office for whoever needs to sit down and talk. Each grade has a designated counsellor, for the grade nine students is Ms. Yamashita, for the grade ten students is Ms. Akler, for the grade eleven students there is Ms. Bhowmik and for the grade twelve students is Ms. McIsaac. You should also ensure you are added to your grade guidance Google classroom. 

Furthermore, Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868), is a readily available resource that provides free and confidential counselling services 24/7. Skylark is another organization that offers free individual and family counselling and also has a virtual walk-in clinic [8]. Another resource is the Toronto Rape Crisis Center (416-597-8808) which provides peer support by means of education, support, and activism for survivors of sexual assault and abuse [9]. Some other places that provide services for mental, emotional, and social wellbeing include the Flemingdon Health Center , Health Access Thorncliffe Park and Children’s Mental Health Toronto [9]. The LGBTQ YouthLine is a youth-led organization that provides anonymous peer support and referrals, and also helps youth access resources [9]. If you or anyone you know is ever suffering from any mental health concerns, don’t let these social stigmas stop you from getting the help you need.









[9] MGCI Student Activity Council’s Mental Health Awareness Brochure