Thursday 5 July 2012

"Get Over It"

"Get over it. Get over it. All this whinin' and cryin' and pltchin' a fit. Get over it, get over it." ~ the Eagles

It's not that bad. Things could be worse. Don't be so sensitive. Don't take things so personally. And my personal favourite, Smile! I have heard them all. Comments from well meaning people who simply don't understand or who buy into the stigma attached to mental illness.

I was recently reminded of why I made a choice to not remain silent about my own battles with depression, why it's so important to me to tear to shreds every last bit of that awful stigma. A friend disclosed to his employer that he has been struggling with mental health issues. It didn't go great. His illness was minimised by a manager who just doesn't understand. It's hard for us to show our weaknesses, especially for men in our society. So just imagine how difficult it was for my friend to actually take that step to share something so personal. Such a shame. A negative response is the very reason that employees are so hesitant to self identify as suffering from a mental illness. But I hardly blame them.

One in four or five Canadians who are suffering from mental illness will go untreated. Why? Quite simply it's because of discrimination based on their illness. Its far from uncommon, sadly, for those suffering from mental illness to face inequity in many areas that others take for granted. A person suffering often faces disadvantages in employment, housing, and educational opportunities. I have been lucky because I work for an employer who has handled my illness in a supportive manner overall. But I am an exception to many of my comrades in this battle against a dark illness.

Stigma is not just faced in the workplace. It also bleeds into other areas of our lives. It can have a dramatic and detrimental effect on our relationships and social network, something that we desperately need to survive mental illness. As I have said in past posts, I did lose some friends in the early days of my illness who didn't understand what was happening to me and my personality. Frankly, I barely understood what was happening to my brain myself so I can hardly hold them to account for walking away. But I do believe that the more that we as a society talk about mental health issues, the higher our level of consciousness and awareness in general. And that can only be good.

Here's another fact from the Canadian Mental Health Commission that I find interesting: 70% of adults who suffer from mental illness began to show signs as a teenager. Studies have shown that if we can catch mental illness in the early years there is a higher success rate for treatment. But we have to make it easy for kids to talk about how they are feeling. And as adults, we have to get so much better at listening and watching for the signs. How do we know what to watch for? We educate ourselves. When we educate ourselves, we will reduce and eventually eliminate stigma.

When I see a homeless person or someone drunk or high, stumbling down East Hastings Street in Vancouver, I think, "there but for the grace of God go I." Most of these souls suffer from mental illness and society let them down. If I didn't have good health care benefits from my employer and the support and love from my family and friends, that could be me. That is the cold, hard truth.

We have a responsibility in this life to look out for each other. I urge you to challenge misconceptions and stigma about mental illness. Dig deeper than the surface and seek the truth. And the next time someone opens up to you, treat that respectfully.

This is dedicated to all my kindred spirits out there who have suffered or are suffering but who refuse to live in shame. You are my heroes!

KB xo

P.S. check out the Mental Health Commission for more information - education is power!

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