The CERVO Foundation fights against the stigma of mental illness

The CERVO Foundation fights against the stigma of mental illness

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This text is part of the special section Philanthropy

“More than 100 years ago, people who suffered from epilepsy were admitted to psychiatric hospitals because we did not know what they had, illustrates the Dr Yves De Koninck, director of the CERVO research center and full professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Université Laval. Now these are people who have completely normal lives. »

At the CERVO Research Center, experienced scientists like him are trying to unravel the mysteries and dysfunctions of the human brain in order to better prevent, detect and treat mental health problems. But one major obstacle continues to stand in the way of advancing science in this field: stigma. And that is why the Foundation invests a large part of its efforts in the fight against the latter.

Dr. Yves De Koninck lists various effects of taboos and prejudices on mental health. Less popular than other areas, mental health research will garner far fewer donations than causes like the fight against cancer. It also relies on regular government grants. Due to the stigma, many patients will wait until the disease is in an advanced stage before coming to the consultation, at which point preventive measures could be put in place to reduce the risks, as in any other disease.

“The great challenge of mental illness is stigmatization, which requires demystification, believes the expert. People must be made to understand that mental illness is a disease like any other, there are medical and biological bases, the scientist recalls. We tend to think that it is the fault of the people. We have to talk about it and invest to understand. »

Mentality change

To raise awareness, the CERVO Foundation is particularly involved in the development of tools dedicated to mental health, such as the Practical Guide. Signs and symptoms of brain diseases.. She is also a general public lecture contributor on the series Facing organized three or four times a year, or from the series deer at workthat allows instilling the best practices in the management of human resources by companies.

Confinement, stress, depression, economic difficulties… The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health, specifies Mr. De Koninck. “COVID is also a mental health crisis,” says the researcher. Through that, we saw how important it is to look after the mental health of citizens and how poorly equipped we are. »

At the helm of the Foundation, Maryse Beaulieu also sees perceptions changing rapidly. “When I came to the Foundation 11 years ago, there were people who told me ‘you’re not going to do that!’ We use it in our expressions: “you are mentally ill, you are crazy”, she laments. But these are diseases that are linked to an organ, the brain. At the beginning there was no company that wanted to talk about it, but we received testimonials from businessmen who have friends who committed suicide”, she says, noting the breaking of certain taboos.

To reduce the impact of these diseases on the health system, people should be aware of the associated symptoms and seek medical advice on time, advocates MI Beaulieu. “For example, if a child is screened for their vulnerability to developing anxiety or bipolar disorders, it is possible to reduce the risk factors to prevent them from developing these problems later in life. If we had another physical problem, we would talk about it with our doctor… We have to be willing to talk about it! »

The culture of mutual aid

“Even behind artificial intelligence, it is the human brain that is at the heart of technology,” says François Dion, president and CEO of Levio, a company that supports companies in their evolution with technology.

During the pandemic, the François Dion team collaborated with the CERVO Foundation to raise awareness and funds from its partners. Companies that donated to the Foundation had access to awareness workshops for their employees and a mental health kit developed for companies.

“When we establish a culture of mutual aid, we use philanthropy as a lever [pour faire changer les choses] says Mr. Dion with conviction. He points out that approximately 2,000 people were able to benefit from this kit, and that the effort raised more than $600,000, given to the Foundation. “A collective effort is needed,” he said. We need people to collaborate. »

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