Mental health isn't just about feeling good. As someone who has suffered with generalized anxiety disorder and subsequent depressive episodes, the last thing I want to read is feel-good drivel. What the media needs to focus on is honesty -- like the countless numbers of medications I've tried just not to have a panic attack on a subway car, the days I skipped work to lie in bed and cry (and how I always told my friends, family and employers I was sick), the pounds I shed not being able to eat in my depressive state, the long hours I spent in a therapist's office because I didn't know how to "fix my head."
Rather than seeing nothing after I post a particularly bleak tweet or a caption speaking about mental illness, my notifications explode with questions and comments, all curious and positive about this awful invisible assailant. Total strangers will send their love and prayers out to me. Others will thank me for being brave and outspoken.
At the age of four, I would wake in the middle of the night; my legs trembling; the bile in my stomach churning up into my throat; my arms paralyzed by my side; a small scream escaping my young lips as I begged God to take me to heaven; as I prayed that the all-consuming fear would go away so that I could catch my breath. How does one explain this to anyone when it has been entrenched within since before time began? Doctors told my mother that I was simply "high strung" and that I would "grow out of it." I didn't. Somehow, while I work to accept the reality of my diagnoses, I must also convey to those who are part of my life, that although my illness has appeared to them as a series of unfortunate events, it has dropped me to my knees and sent me careening into a fiery hell of anguish only understood by those who have seen the divide between reality and insanity.
Although "Mental Illness Awareness Week" is a lovely concept, it only serves to validate those of us who already understand the stigma. It does not enlighten those who already have a pre-existing perception of mental illness as being a defect. In order to enhance their efficacy, those of us with mental illness need to be proactive in our cause, and not be stunted by the stigma.
Framing a depressed person's behaviour and speech as being influenced by their illness can seem helpful. I've certainly said things like, "that's not you talking, that's your depression." But telling someone, especially someone who is suffering from a mental illness and has spent years dealing with all the stigma that comes with it, that it's not really them talking can be downright dangerous.
I was not the least bit surprised when I read that Ellen Richardson was banned entry into the U.S. because she suffered with depression and had a history of attempted suicide. That was unconscionable, but I do have a suggestion that may help prevent this for others. The police explained that many, if not all, contacts with them end up in their database. Regrettably, it is too late to help Ellen Richardson but others who may be in a similar situation and who may be travelling to the U.S. should check with their own police departments to find out what may have been entered.
When someone is severely troubled, delusional, and potentially violent and we have no beds for them in our hospitals, they may get to deal with the police who are likely to shoot them. Not exactly a humanitarian way of dealing with the seriously mentally ill but one that is likely cost effective. We are not providing appropriate care and resources to the seriously mentally ill and we need to.
While there is no evidence that Sammy Yatim had a mental illness, his shooting has reminded everyone of all those with mental illness who have been shot by police.The Mental Health Commission of Canada could make a significant contribution to reducing these tragedies by funding specialized police/psychiatry units and having them operate for longer periods of time.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has released its new guidelines for involving families in the mental health system. Since family caregivers for people with psychotic disorders often supply the majority of mental health support, these efforts to create a more family friendly mental health system represent a huge step forward.
With Bill C-54, if you are deemed to be "high risk not criminally responsible," you will be held for a minimum of three years before you ever have the chance to see a review board. As someone who has not only been a patient in three separate psychiatric hospitals in Ontario, but has also worked in forensic psychiatric institutions, I know that they aren't always the best places to get better. With proper treatment, I was healthy again and posed no threat to the public within a few months. Had I been forced to remain in hospital for three years, I likely wouldn't be the productive, law-abiding citizen that I am today.
People with schizophrenia don't have a Master's degree in Neuroscience. I'm simply too intelligent to have schizophrenia, right? Then why do rats eat my brain, why do voices yell at me, and why am I being stalked by a homicidal man with a sniper gun (I've got proof)? I assume it is normal. I don't have any friends and I have withdrawn from my family so no one but Them (doctors, nurses -- everyone in league with the enemy) diagnose me, treat me. So here are your pills. You would think that after all of this, I would surely realize that I had schizophrenia. I didn't, though.
Prime Minister Harper wants to enhance the safety of victims harmed by the violence of the untreated mentally ill with proposed changes to the Criminal Code. But it still retains absolute discharge once the individual demonstrates that he/she is well and is taking medications. The problem is, there are no restrictions and no provision for ongoing monitoring to ensure that treatment is adhered to. Those who are untreated are often violent and nothing is to be gained by ignoring reality.
Anytime a celebrity or somebody in the spotlight, like Mindy McCready, takes his or her own life we tend to only talk about the issues facing that specific person. Maybe its easier to talk of somebody everybody knows of. I've talked about why I was grateful I'm still living because, as I've learned, I have a lot to live for. I saw that first hand after my two suicide attempts.
Jacquie was mentally ill, this much was clear, but after age 12 her parents didn't have the ability to force her into treatment, where they knew she belonged. Sure enough, with Jacquie living on her own and untreated, she launched a horrific attack with a saw on two neighbours, a mother and a daughter, who nearly died. Jacquie was found criminally not responsible for the attacks. The two doctors who refused to deal with and treat a severely ill young lady remain in place today. They are hidden deep in a broken medical system that protects them, but also sucks them in as a new kind of unintended victim of a sick health care bureaucracy.
For the past 16 hours I have been having an anxiety attack, my first in many months. I have been pacing around my apartment. I have been vocal with what its like to live with mental illness but a thought occurred to me earlier: Why not write a blog while I experience this anxiety attack inside of waiting until it's over and recollecting what it felt like?
Would you ever hesitate to tell your boss the reason that you have a runny nose is because you have the flu? The obvious answer to that question is, no. Then why do we hesitate to talk to our employer about mental illness? My dream is that anybody living with mental illness can have the same dialogue with their employers that I currently enjoy.
Even though people suffer from a disease of the brain that impairs their rational thinking, most jurisdictions in North America have stringent legislation that makes it difficult to impose treatment. And, because society allows them to refuse treatment, some die. But, their civil liberties remain intact. Or do they?