Sunday, 24 May 2015
I have surprised many people over the years when I say that I have depression and anxiety. The response that often follows is this: but you seem so happy and outgoing - I can't believe it! The reality is that depression and anxiety are complicated illnesses with many layers. The assumptions that we make about mental disorders are largely untrue. Yes, there are moments when I am in a depressive state and I may laugh and seem alive and in high spirits. Sometimes I am, for a moment. Sometimes I am fabulous at deception. And sometimes I just don't have the strength or desire to pretend.
If you ask me why I became an advocate for mental health awareness and many other social issues, the long answer would have to do with who I am at my core - I am empathetic with a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to this world that we live in and the people who inhabit it. It's not enough for me to just go through the motions in life. The short answer is that I wanted to make sense out of my own experiences. And so I began a journey.
My journey towards formal advocacy led me to Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) a not for profit organization based in Ottawa. There are many fabulous mental health organizations out there and they all need volunteers - I had my work cut out for me when deciding which one I wanted to work with. What greatly appealed to me at PFMH is the fact that they are a small organization focused largely on awareness and understanding of mental health issues in Canada and at the time that I joined back in 2012, they were in their infancy. After speaking with them, I felt like it was a good fit for me. I could help them to create impact and develop some of my own advocacy skills. That's all true but here's what I hadn't bargained on: the profound sense of belonging that I gained.
There are many studies that show the benefits of volunteering and I am here to tell you that the benefits are real. Not only do I have a sense of purpose, that I am doing something valuable, but I also have been welcomed as part of an amazing community. I often refer to my colleagues as my PFMH family - some of them I have met in person but most of us, spread across the country, have never met except online. And yet, the friendships that I have developed are real, lasting, and of great comfort to me.
A classic hallmark of depression is a feeling of isolation - that you are all alone in this big, scary world. At least, that's how it feels when you are in the tight grasp of the illness. Having a community that I can reach out to, who understand how I feel when I am ill, and who equally understand the sense of passion that I have for advocacy is an amazing comfort.
My PFMH family is always there when I need them and I think they feel the same about me. There is a silent agreement that we come together when we need to: if one of us is unwell or if there is a particular campaign or topic that we need to raise our voices together on, we rally the troops. When one of us reaches out a hand, there is always someone there to grab hold. I am not alone. I am never alone. Neither are you.
at May 24, 2015
Sunday, 3 May 2015
Why am I still talking about mental illness? Haven't I said all that I can say on the topic? You might be asking that question. After all, it's been a few years since I started this blog. Yes, I have asked myself once or twice if I should keep going or maybe close up my laptop and sign off. Maybe it's time to just stop. Then I see a report like the one that I watched last night.
Pop Quiz Time:
Question #1: If you are suffering from a mental illness and you go to a Canadian hospital, will you receive the care that you need?
Question #2: If you are admitted to a Canadian hospital because you are deemed at risk for death by suicide, will you be safe?
Question #3: If you are on suicide watch in a Canadian hospital, will you be watched?
The answer to these questions is, sadly and shockingly, not always.
Remember a few years back when Michael Moore made the documentary about the state of healthcare in the United States? Canada was held up as a shining example of a top-notch system. While I don't disagree that we are very lucky and, in most cases, it truly is excellent, I have to say that it's time we took a close look at all aspects of health and our medical system. Do we treat all illnesses with the same level of attention and due diligence? Nope - not even close when it comes to mental illness.
The Canadian investigative news program, W5, broadcast a story called Suicide Watch. In the report, they told the story of Ross Allan, a young man from British Columbia diagnosed with schizophrenia who killed himself by hanging in a hospital washroom. I admit that I didn't watch longer than ten minutes. I simply couldn't. Yes, I was saddened. Was it a trigger for me in terms of my own mental illness? No. A trigger for anger? You bet it was.
How is it that a person in a Canadian hospital, who is on suicide watch, is left alone to his own devices and is able to find what he needs (time alone, tools) to take his life? When someone is admitted to hospital with a life threatening illness or injury we don't say to that person, we are just going to put you in a corner of this busy emergency room for now and we'll get back to you in a few hours. Oh, and we are probably not going to check on you either. This is what happened to Ross Allan. Not OK. Not OK by a long shot.
As part of the investigation, W5 reported: "...W5 was able to extrapolate data to produce a national picture of inpatient suicides. It is believed that there have been approximately 300 deaths over ten years involving suicidal patients who were supposed to be son strict watch."
Here's another question. Are YOU OK with the loss of 300 lives? Is it alright that a developed, first world country treats its people who have a mental illness like second class citizens ? It sure as hell isn't OK with me and I am banking on it not being OK with YOU.
How can you help? Get loud! It's Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week. Educate yourself, challenge bias and stigma, and create conversation about this serious health issue. Do it for Ross Allen and the other 298 lost citizens. Do it for me. And keep the conversation going.
P.S. Learn more about Canadian Mental Health Awareness Week
P.P.S. Want to volunteer with a fabulous not for profit organization? Check out Partners For Mental Health
at May 03, 2015
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