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Austin and Shrida are two members of Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council. In recognition of Menstrual Hygiene Day, they asked a few of their fellow council members about their experiences with menstrual health and stigma.
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Mental illness has always been highly stigmatized. Mental Health Month and other awareness programs attempt to bring mental illness out of the shadows, yet many of those who should be leading the fight to de-stigmatize mental illness, my fellow physicians, continue to foster stigma through their actions and words. Many patients have been irreparably harmed by physicians from every area of medicine who don't read, don't listen, and don't care about mental illness.
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It's Eating Disorders Awareness Week in Canada (Feb.1-7, 2017). It has taken me about 15 years to ADMIT that I had an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa) as a child and teenager. If you know someone with an eating disorder, here are a few things to be aware of.
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For last year's Bell Let's Talk Day I listed some reasons why we should be more open about our mental health struggles. But what happens when we do open up and seek treatment?
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Over the years, I have noticed many instances where professionals felt that they were supposed to be above all of life's challenges and obstacles. Not just health care workers ignoring their own health; but leaders who feel stressed by circumstances beyond their control and who live in fear of being discovered so that they feel anxious and afraid.
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We continue to be bombarded with graphically depicted messages that either romanticize suicide in terms of simplistic Romeo and Juliet dreck, or unfairly portray those in the midst of a mental illness crisis as "mad." We start believing falsehoods that keep perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigma.
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Stigma has many causes, one of which is a genuine fear of contagion. Despite the fact that HIV is now a treatable condition, "educational" messages on HIV prevention are still based on fear, and almost universally exaggerate the risks of HIV infection and its consequences.
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As September marked National Suicide Prevention Month, it is important to raise awareness about suicide by helping educate others and eliminate current misconceptions.
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Having worked in suicide prevention, I know that making suicide and suicide ideation taboo plays a part in suicide statistics. Just like Mental Illness has been coming out of the closet in the last few years, suicides can be prevented when it is destigmatized and talked about. We have anti-bullying legislation talk about workplace harassment. But suicide or suicide ideation and mental illness are too often off the table.
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The trouble is, there is no recipe book for prescribing psychiatric medications. Every individual is unique, so with the guidance of their doctor, patients must find the treatment that's right for them. If a drug makes them feel worse, it's not the right drug, but that doesn't mean there are no other options. The right treatment must be found and sometimes that takes time, effort and creativity. Feeling like a zombie is never an acceptable outcome.
My migraines never reduced in frequency or intensity. I took over-the-counter and prescription drugs. It was not usual for me to take 8 muscle relaxants a day plus small amounts of prescription painkillers. My lifestyle was otherwise healthy. I did pilates 5 days a week, ate well and slept 8 hours a night. But 6 out of 7 days was a struggle. A struggle to be positive focused and upbeat at work many days when I just felt like banging my head down on my desk.
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As a mental health advocate, I was addicted to appearing to be recovered. I was afraid to admit that I am living with an eating disorder. Afraid that it meant the messages I was telling people about recovery being possible wasn't true. That living with an eating disorder, while being highlighted as recovered, meant I was a fraud.
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The in-patient doctor had quipped, "You're on too much medication." In the span of a few seconds, five words undid years of hard work. Those words powerfully undermined Lillian's confidence and stirred up her long-held fear that her illness was a weakness. Once again she was depressed, anxious, unable to sleep properly and withdrawn from family, friends and her community.
I felt like I was daring myself to cross some arbitrary line in the sand, and once I did, there would be no turning back. Canadians' perceptions of who I was, and certainly their knowledge of my life story, would be forever altered. Even if only a few dozen people heard my story, it felt big to share personally and publicly.