Monday 22 July 2013

"Penny for Your Thoughts"

Stigma quote by Marian Anderson - Prejudice is like a hair across your cheek. You can't see it, you can't find it with your fingers, but you keep brushing at it because the feel of it is irritating.
What exactly is stigma? Is it prejudice? They are connected, intertwined, that is for certain. Especially on the subject of mental illness. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it's not.
Ever since I began speaking years ago about my own battles with depression, and now with this blog, I hear from people, strangers, colleagues, and friends, on a daily basis who are waging their own wars. Their personal stories, words of support for my own health, and encouragement for the work that I do to raise awareness on this topic are all so inspiring and rewarding to me. Whenever someone shares a piece of themselves with me, I become a bit stronger. I feel less alone on those particularly dark days and I learn about how others cope. Adding a few tips and tricks to my mental health tool kit is always good!
There are many of us out there - one in five Canadians have been diagnosed or will be diagnosed with mental illness in their lifetime.  But most of us still aren't talking about it openly. It's still somewhat shameful. As I have said many times before, unless more of us come out of the mental illness closet we will never truly come out from under the shroud of stigma and the discrimination that goes along with it. So, I thought I would poll my amazing support group, my Partners for Mental Health community correspondents family, on what they feel are the biggest misconceptions about mental illness. Here's our list:
1. People only suffer mental illness as a result of trauma: Yes, mental illness is often a result of some sort of trauma such as job loss, illness, or death of a loved one. But there are also other causes. We have heard in the last couple of years about sports injuries and brain illness, for example. And we know that bio-chemical imbalances in the brain as well as a genetic disposition all play a role in whether or not you will be among the one in five.
2. Medicine fixes everything: There's a lack of understanding about what hard work recovery is and all the elements involved in it (medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, nutrition and exercise, social connection). Additionally, there are many kinds of meds and not all of them are effective for everyone. I have been lucky and have only had to tweak my medications once but I know people who struggle to hold onto hope as they try one medication after another until they find the right one (or combination of meds).
3. Mental illness is just an excuse for bad behaviour: According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada 46% of Canadians believe this to be true. What is perceived as bad behaviour are actually symptoms of illness: irritability, anger, crying, etc. It's worth noting that men and women often display different symptoms. For example, men typically show anger when they are depressed.
4. You can just "snap out of it": Mental illness is not the flu, it won't pass in five days. It takes time, whether that be a couple of months, or a couple of years. See point four below...
5. When you feel better then you are all better: Recovery from mental illness is full of ups and downs. You may feel better for a few days but that doesn't always mean that you are recovered and that your illness is in remission.  I like to compare recovery to climbing Mt. Everest - you don't get to the top in one day and sometimes you need to climb back down to base camp to acclimate. You need to persevere and not give up.

That's what we are up against. It's frustrating but I also understand that unless we talk about it, nothing will change. That's why some of us want to talk about it - to help people understand. But it's not all doom and gloom! While I was at it I thought I would gather my colleagues' top tips to help you or a loved one through mental illness:
1. You are in control of your own recovery: Don't just do what your doctor says if it doesn't feel right. There are many elements involved in treatment and recovery and you need to find the right combination for yourself.  Seek professional medical advice and help, weigh your options, and do what feels best for you.
2. Find your caregiver dream team: Finding the right match of therapist or doctor can sometimes be challenging. If you don't feel comfortable with that person, or if he or she treats you with less than empathy and respect, you need to move on to the next health care professional. If you have a bad experience with one or two, just don't give up - keep searching for the right help.
3. Find others who have been through a similar situation for support/guidance: Being able to relate to someone and have someone relate to you is really important. My PFMH family is that group of people for me.
4. Find people who are supportive of you: This is really important and kind of tricky sometimes. Surround yourself with only supportive, positive people. Distance yourself from people who negatively affect your self-esteem and recovery.
5. Know you're NEVER alone: You are not the only one going through this and sometimes there is a tiny bit of comfort in knowing that. Refer to points three and four above!                    
My favourite piece of advice? It comes from Ashley: "Have a little hope."
KB xo
For more information about mental health issues please visit the Canadian Mental Health Association's website. They have some fabulous resources to help you on your journey.
P.S. Thank you to Kathleen, Ashley, Charlotte, Casey, Meaghan, Meg, Allison - you guys ROCK!


  1. I finally had a chance to read this post. It is awesome and nails it right on. I think the hardest one for me has been finding a group of people that are supportive, or at least knowing what that looks like. So many of my besties are far away. But, I am learning to draw on them anyhow. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Hi Danielle! Thank you so much for your comments, as always. Luckily with technology, our friends and family who are geographically far from us can feel a little bit closer. And finding people who understand can be hard - keep searching!


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