Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stigma is alive and well

I came across this picture this week and thought it would be a good blog entry. It really spoke to me on how society views cancer and how mental illness is also viewed. There is so much judgement and discrimination around mental illness. Often times people are treated much differently if they suffer from mental illness compared to cancer.

Stigma says: People who have mental illness are just lazy and don't want to work so use it as an excuse.

Fact says: People who suffer from a mental illness are often lacking the energy needed to perform simple daily activities needed to survive. Just getting out of bed in the morning is a task.

Stigma says: People who are mentally ill choose their lives and if they wanted to change then they would do so. They should just pull up their socks and get over the pity party.

Fact says: Mental Illness is a REAL disorder of the brain. They do not choose to be ill just like people who have cancer- it just happens. They are not to blame

Stigma says: If they were to just take their medication to control their mental disorder then they would be fine.

Fact says: It takes often months or years to find the right medication that works. Sometimes the side effects are worse then the disorder itself. Medication is helpful however it is not the only thing that needs to be done. At times, it takes years to get to the point where they are able to cope with life to be able to live on their own. This is after many medication changes, doctor visits, psychiatrist visits, therapist visits, crisis team interventions, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, groups, programs...

Stigma says: People with mental illness do not need sympathy but need the tough love approach. People who have mental illness will not die from their disorder but people with cancer most likely will.

Fact says: People who suffer from any illness require empathy, care, and understanding. Tough love often will push the loved one away. A person who is diagnosed with a mental illness is more likely to die by their own hands and complete suicide.


I am not sure why there is still stigma around surrounding mental illness. If someone has cancer and is away from work, cannot look after their family, or is in the hospital then often times  friends and neighbours will come over with a nice cooked meal to help out or they will visit the person who is ill. However, if someone has a mental illness then very often this person is isolated and made to feel alone. People are less likely to visit them when they are home ill or in the hospital. They are less likely to ask if they can help with something. The person who is ill is made to feel as if what they are experiencing is their fault and they need to fix themselves.

If people had the power to heal themselves from mental illness then why are they still sick? Why are they still suffering? Anyone who is ill does not choose to be ill because they want to- but because they do not have a choice. I am sure that most people who are ill with any disease would choose health over anything else.

Mental Illness takes away a lot of things. Sometimes cancer looks more appealing then mental illness. With  cancer at least you know you are going to often have your friends and family to support you and help you when needed. You appear ill and people give empathy and caring to you, being sensitive to your needs and respect you. They make time for you as they may feel you will not be around forever due to how sick you are getting. I am not saying that cancer is a good thing by any means, however is mental illness a good thing either?

With mental illness, chances are  the diagnosis is life long. During your life time you lose more friends then you can count. The possibility of having a long term relationship is a dream for most, along with a family of their own. There will be a strained relationship with your family if they do not understand what is going on- and have to face stigma day in and out while they sweep reality under the mat. When ill and in the hospital, you are placed in a locked ward where your privacy and privileges are taken away. But who needs privileges when most people will not visit you anyways as they are ashamed of you for being "weak".

Cancer can be a death sentence but also mental illness can be too. If someone who is in the waves of despair and becomes engulfed then often it feels as if they are going to die. Sometimes, they would rather die then have this long term life sentence. Who would want to live if your family and friends do not support you and they step aside? To feel alone all the time? Where people tell you to take a pill and you will be fine but fail to validate that you try so hard in staying well? To be told that you are lazy and a drain on the system? To have no one to believe in you? If this is what living is like then no wonder there are people who do not want to continue on if they face a brick wall daily.... a brick wall of stigma.

Cancer is not pretty but neither is the reality of mental illness. A person is just as much a hero who has a mental illness as if someone survives cancer. Only difference is how society views it. Lets start changing the views of society.

Please go to Partners for Mental Health to see what volunteer opportunities you can assist in and remember to sign the pledge while you are there! I volunteer as a Community Correspondent for Nova Scotia and I find it very empowering to be apart of Partners and align with people who are working towards a common goal- reducing stigma in our communities! Lets start speaking out about mental illness and normalizing it! Be the change you want to see- you CAN make a difference.



22 comments:

  1. I wish I had said it just like you. very well written. thank you.

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  2. Wow, really nice post!!
    I so hope one day the stigma will be history and we will have the support we need.

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  3. We need everyone to speak up and share about mental health to break down stigma. No one person can do it alone- we must join arms and fight it and encourage one another in the process. The best way to fight is sharing through personal experience and using it as a tool to aid others.

    Thank you Dave Procter and Chantal for your encouragement. Together we CAN make a difference!

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  4. You put it so well Twyla. For sure you are a champion for those who can't really express themselves as they would like to.

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    1. Thank you Geoff for you comment- together we can change the world in speaking out about these issues.

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  5. Mental illness doesn't have to be a death sentenace or a life long illness.You can be cured from some types of mental illness & lead productive lives.There is one way to shatter the stigma of mental illness.

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    1. I totally agree with you in regards to it is not a death sentence. However, in the moment of the illness it does feel like a death sentence and a lot of society does not understand this. A lot of people who have not experienced the illness do not fully understand how hard it is to get out of the hole of despair unfortunately. There are many who can indeed be cured from some types of mental illness and go on to lead very productive lives like you stated- no doubt about it. Then there are others who cannot fully recover because the trauma in their past holds them back, they do not get the right help, or have the right people around them to believe in them. There is a lot of variables that play into recovery. I view recovery as an action work, on going rather then a destination as it is something that always needs to be worked out.

      Thanks for your comments- they are very insightful.

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  6. I like where things are going. We have a long way to go, but we are making steps in the right direction.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. Things have certainly improved in the last 50 years by far. People who have a mental illness are no longer locked away in asylums like they were before, but are now treated out in society and are able to lead very productive lives with the help and services in the community. Its a great feeling we are no longer in the barbaric stages of mental health- but yes we indeed have a long ways to go.

      With your help- we can change the future. I encourage you to speak out and stand up to fight with the rest of us that want to change the future. Are you up for the challenge?

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  7. I hear you, and agree....

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  8. Very well put. I truly believe the more we talk, the more the stigma will disappear. But it is hard.

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    1. Yes, I agree with you that it is indeed hard. But, anything worth fighting for is going to be hard. There may be bumps in the road and we may fall down in doing so but we need to look ahead and not at the potholes that we continue to stumble in.

      Sometimes I worry that I will become sick and my mental illness will stop me from my goal. I will feel that I am not be productive in reducing stigma. But, I tell myself that if I get the right support and link with people who have similar goals then we can link arms and support one another. That way, there is accountability, understanding, and people to hold each other up when they get tired.

      Thank you for the comment. Perhaps you would like to speak out more and talk about mental illness to reduce stigma down the road? I know- BIG step to put yourself out there into the world to talk about a taboo topic that many shy away from. Its not easy.... but no one ever said it was going to be. It is REWARDING however- and gives you back much more then what you put into it if you help someone out.

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    2. Thanks for the comment. I also write a blog. It is about my experience with depression. And I talk about it. It's so hard for me to do, but I have to say it has been one of the best ways of healing for me. Thanks to you for also talking.

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    3. Danielle- What courage you have to speak out about your experiences with depression! It says a lot about your character even though it is hard for you. You recognize that it needs to be done and through that found some healing for yourself. Way to go, this is truly encouraging. Keep up the great work! If you have not already done so, please see what you can do to help Partners for Mental Health and their mission to end stigma- you would be a great asset to the team! I really hope we can dialog more in the future because I feel your strength you have inside- that is exciting to see! Together- we can make a difference!

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    4. Thanks for your words. I also hope we get to communicate some more. I will contact Partners for Mental Health in a bit. I do like what they are trying to do.

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  9. "With mental illness, chances are the diagnosis is life long. During your life time you lose more friends then you can count. The possibility of having a long term relationship is a dream for most, along with a family of their own. There will be a strained relationship with your family if they do not understand what is going on- and have to face stigma day in and out while they sweep reality under the mat. When ill and in the hospital, you are placed in a locked ward where your privacy and privileges are taken away. But who needs privileges when most people will not visit you anyways as they are ashamed of you for being "weak"."

    Just that part speaks to what I have gone through for the better part of 25 years.

    I have never had a long-term romantic relationship. I have been locked in a ward against my will. I have been called weak and lazy and a drain on society over and over. I keep battling, however.

    I have no friends right now, but am in a program to try and expand my non-existent circle.

    Things have gotten better, but try looking for a job and being honest about your condition and see if you get said job! How do you explain your work history that might be spotty to a prospective employer? If you had fought cancer for 2 years you might have a better shot at the job.

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    1. Bram- I am glad that you were able to connect to my post and relate. Its unfortunate though you had to face the truth about how stigma is alive and well in the process.

      I encourage you to continue with that program that you are in in hopes that you will expand your circle. Its important for you to do even though your inner self says "whats the point of this as no one is going to like me, or I am not worthy of friends as I will scare them away". Try to take things at face value and not what stinkin thinkin is telling you. Many have that thought process and its hard to overcome, I understand.

      Remember that you are NOT weak. You are NOT lazy. You are NOT a drain on society. I am glad that you keep battling despite this negative comments that have been thrown at you. Even though they are thrown at you- you don't have to catch them. You don't have to take ownership of them because they are not yours. You know that you are stronger then most deep inside! Mental illness however robs some people of quality of life and we are not able to do things as easily as others would.

      I am glad to hear that things have gotten better for you. That sounds very hopeful! The job aspect is indeed a hard one. If you are feeling able to work and can do so that is awesome as you are wanting to contribute. But then there is stigma in the workplace that hits you right in the face. There is stigma everywhere and it is like no one wants to hear about it or be compassionate about it to hire on. I have heard of this time and time again.

      You are a fighter- I see it in your comments. Don't lose hope and continue to speak out about how you are feeling and how stigma is affecting your life. Do not own the stigma however- notice it and let it go.

      And remember no matter how much you feel it- YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

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  10. It is so hard to make others understand - especially when you don't entirely understand it yourself. You can have good days and bad days but people like to focus on the bad and label you accordingly. Depression sucks and I used to wish it was terminal just so I would know it WOULD end some day.

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    1. It is hard when a person has a struggling day and that is all people see- its not fair at all. We are bound to have days in which we struggle as we cannot be happy and cheerful all the time- that is not living. Real living is ups and downs and not having to pretend how you are doing.

      It must be hard for you not to understand yourself what you are going through at times- I can see how it would be a struggle to try to get others understand. I encourage you to continue your search for understanding so that you can better educate yourself and read up on things. I am not taking about reading psychobabble and trying to find a diagnosis but rather trying to understand how you are feeling and what makes sense to you. You are your best judge and own expert.

      I have run into a lot of people whom wish depression was terminal as that way they would eventually see the end of despair. At times, I will admit that I still go through periods in my life where I wish that depression was terminal so that the suffering would end. It would be a lot easier in a sense for family eh? But since it is not terminal then it is best to try to learn to cope in the best way that we can and try to get the best possible help that we can. Each person is worthy of having a life where they are content in- YOU are worthy of having a life where you are content in.

      Be encouraged. Seek out help if you need it and don't let stigma get in the way of the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a light there and no, it is not a train... its the sun shinning!

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  11. I too used to wish depression was terminal to end the anguish. Now I am so glad it is not. I still have days when things suck and I don't feel like coping for sure. But, I think about all the good things and I know I wouldn't want to be missing those. I hope you have your own set of good things, it's what makes the bad days bearable.

    For me the best parts are my two nephews. I know deep down I wouldn't want to miss out on being a part of their lives. But there are other things as well... moments of laughing so hard I can't breathe, beauty in the world, unexpected moments of connection with people (which often come as a result of sharing my story of depression), accomplishment, growth and the list goes on and on... It has really helped me to think about these things as they give me hope. (and as a side note, today is a hard day so the opportunity to once again think about the good things is great timing).

    I wish you all the best. As Twyla says, the light is the sun shining, even though sometimes it's hard to tell.

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    1. Hi Danielle-

      Thank you for you encouraging post of support to this person who has posted. You indeed are an inspiration. Continue to hold onto the good memories and things during this harder day and continue to share your story. Blessings.

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