Joy Cameron has lived with clinical depression for 14 years and is now recovering from post-concussion syndrome, making hers an ideal voice to help launch the inaugural Year of the Brain 2015.
Taking place before more than 100 people at Parkwood Hospital on Jan. 28, 17 brain-related organizations helped kick off the year-long series of activities designed to increase awareness of the critical role the brain plays to health and well being. In addition, the Year of the Brain 2015 campaign will address the need for improved support services for those affected by a brain conditions, their families and caregivers.
“Stigmas prevent us from talking about these issues,” Cameron said. “But when it comes right down to it, the reality is that my story isn't all that different from many of your friends, family members and co-workers.”
Approximately one-in-three Canadians suffers from a brain condition. These conditions include both neurological disorders — such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, epilepsy and brain tumours — and mental illnesses, including depression and addiction.
The Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, Brain Injury Association of London and Region, and Dale Brain Injury Services led the charge to create the campaign after coming together to discuss the gaps that exist in providing supports and services for people living with various brain conditions, caregivers and family members.
Sue Hillis, executive director Dale Brain Injury Services, said it was “interesting” the campaign was being launched on the same day as the Bell Let’s Talk initiative.
“One of the things we really want to support with this program is reducing that stigma and really educating the public about the various health conditions that affect the brain,” Hillis said. “We heard about the Year of the Brain 2014 that happened in Europe . . . we thought it was maybe coming to North America. We didn’t hear anything anywhere else, so we decided why not start it in southwestern Ontario ourselves.”
Tracey Jones, director of programs and services with Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada, said the goal of Year of the Brain 2015 is to highlight all the different neurological conditions that exist so people can better understand them and bring attention to — and highlight — the need for greater research into these disorders.
“I think more and more people recognize the prevalence of these disorders. They estimate one-in-three Canadians is impacted by either a neurological disorder or a mental health illness, something like anxiety or depression,” Jones said. “When you combine the numbers, you see this is affecting people of all ages. It is getting people talking about it, getting people not afraid to say they are living with a mental health issue, so let’s talk about it.”
Donna Thomson, executive director of Brain Injury Association of London and Region, said it's easy to see why the campaign is so important just by looking at how people with physical injuries are treated.
If someone had a cast on their leg, people understand they might have to help them with, for example, their mobility. But someone with a brain injury, they might have problems with social behaviours and many people don’t know how to deal with that situation.
“That scares people. It's similar to the stigma around mental health, which is of course part of the whole brain and part of this initiative,” Thomson said. “Hopefully this creates more awareness, better access to services, better access to information for the general public.
As long as these illnesses are not recognized, Jones said, the research is going to be held back behind another cause that is getting more visibility.
That visibility is important, as Jones said the hope is to make people realize support is available to them.
For more information visit www.YearOfTheBrain2015.com or follow the conversation on Twitter (@YOTB2015) or Facebook.