Do you feel part of your community? Do you have a community? What is community?
One of the gifts that I gained after experiencing depression has been, oddly enough, a sense of community, of being part of something bigger. But let me tell you, when I was in the depths of the illness, I certainly felt all alone.
A classic hallmark of depression is a feeling of isolation. The illness has a way of ensuring that, most of the time, you do the opposite of what you should be doing to be a healthy, functioning member of society. You stay home when you could be out for dinner with your friends. You pull away from loved ones because you don't want them to see the pain that you are feeling. You fall prey to the negative dialogue in your head and the self-stigma. Get it together! What is wrong with you?!
Frankly, society doesn't really help matters. Often, it makes things worse. Why is there such a thing as self-stigma? Why do we believe that mental illness is just weakness? Partly because that is what society tells us, repeatedly.
There is an important research project currently underway at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia in partnership with the Open Door Group. It's called Imagining Inclusion. The project endeavors to ask these two questions:
1. How do individuals living with mental illness experience community inclusion, health, and well-being? and,
2. What are meaningful, practical, and relevant ways to represent community inclusion, health, and well-being for those living with mental illness?
Imagining Inclusion participants have done something remarkable: through simple photographs and a line or two about their sense of community they are literally and figuratively giving us a snapshot into their daily lives. What Douglas College and the Open Door Group are doing is significant - they are providing an opportunity for voices of an often maligned, frequently stigmatized group of our population to be heard.
It's through the disability & inclusion community and a diversity event that I came to experience the Imagining Inclusion exhibit and learn about the project. It was not enough for me to come through my last experience with depression alive - it became clear to me that to thrive in my life and mitigate risk of my illness returning, I had to cultivate community and sense of purpose. That is how my world of advocacy began. By refusing to wear that heavy cloak of stigma and shame, I have found an amazing supportive world out there. But...
It's still the real world out there and there is substantial work ahead in eradicating stigma. But it's through the commitment of organizations such as the Open Door Group and people who want to learn, such as the engaged researchers at Douglas College, and, last but certainly not least, the participants of Imagining Inclusion that we will reach that mountain top.
What can you do to create a stronger sense of community for yourself and others? How do we move towards empathy and away from insensitivity and indifference? So here's YOUR call to action. Find a small way that you can make your neighborhood, your workplace, your family a better place. One person can make a difference. Now imagine what the combined efforts of many can do. Imagine inclusion...
P.S. For more information about the fabulous Open Door Group please visit their website