Some people may be wondering why January 31st was chosen as the date for the annual Light In the Dark event. After all, in Canada, that date tends to fall right in the dead of winter, where the nights are long, and the days are far too short and far too cold, probably, for an activity like this.
The date, January 31st, was chosen because it is a fairly accurate metaphor for the state of mental health awareness today.
Sadly, even though we are in the 21st century - the age of technology and easy access information - so much of our public knowledge about matters concerning mental health is based on superstitions, pervasive negative mythology, and rumor. In the year 2009 the public is forced to rely mostly on information from popular media to learn about mental health and related issues.
I'm sure we all understand that while media has its benefits, it also has its bias. Today, we live in a media culture where the following motto reigns: If it bleeds, it leads. The most sensational stories make their way into the headlines of our newspapers, where we hear tales of wicked depravity blended with hints of mental malfunction.
We as spectators follow along with the likes of Britney Spears as her bipolar manifestations compel her to act out. As spectators, we read of cases of post-partum mothers, addled by hallucinations, who drown their children in bathtubs. We watch our TVs and webcasts in horror as a man allegedly affected by psychosis swings a machete in the air after he has decapitated a fellow bus passenger.
And this is what we know of mental illness. This is what our media informs us that mental illness is; graceless celebrities who self-destruct, horrific women who should be sterilized for their sins, and dangerous men who deserve nothing less than to die mercilessly for their acts.
Well, maybe the media doesn't arrive at these conclusions, but with their half-hearted attempts at reporting, with no follow-up, with no actual explanation for the events, and with no description of the collision of circumstances that caused the arrival of the newsworthy event, this is what the media allows us to believe. This is the flavour of "mental illness" that the media imparts - destructive, disturbed, untrustworthy... fearsome.
It is not the fault of the media that conditions of mental health and their related issues are as misunderstood as they are. As of January 2009, the government or any social service agency has yet to assume control of education and awareness relating to mental health. Where the government has the breadth of reach, power of oversight, and access to the most recent medical information, it is fairly reprehensible that our public conceptions of mental health are allowed to remain so skewed and so hideously inaccurate.
In the year 2009, the reality is that we Canadians still remain in the Dark Ages of mental health. In the year 2009, we Canadians remain absurdly unenlightened. This is one of the reasons why January 31st, one of our darkest and coldest days of winter, was chosen for Light In the Dark.
Yet there is more to this date, January 31st, than the darkness... There is more to the metaphor for why this date was chosen.
For anyone who is familiar with winter, you know that there comes a point in that season where you become tired of the frigid darkness; you become tired, and you begin to wish, sometimes even to plan, for spring.
And so January 31st was chosen also because it represents a wish: A wish to thaw the chilling effects of ignorance and move towards a warmer, more promising, day.
We want to move towards education and awareness. We want mental health education to become a priority among our government and its beneficiary agencies. A more educated public, and a more aware public, means that we will get to live in a world without fear. A knowledgeable society will be an accepting society.
Show your support for those living with conditons and issues that affect their mental health.
Show your support for education and awareness.
Show your desire for a more knowledgeable and accepting society.
Let your light shine.
Let our light shine.
PS. I lit my candle last night!