Talking about sexual and reproductive health with students is always a little bit awkward, even in the best of situations! Having these discussions within a culture that often considers anything related to reproductive health to be taboo can be particularly challenging -- and incredibly important. In rural Tanzania, such topics are rarely discussed. The national curriculum includes the topics of menstruation and reproductive health, but these topics are frequently rushed through, or skipped altogether, by uncomfortable teachers in underfunded, overcrowded schools.
The reality is that out of all Canadians living with HIV, more than one in four don't know they are living with it. And for those of us working with African, Caribbean and Black communities in Canada, it doesn't surprise us to learn that Joseph is a Black man. People from African, Caribbean and Black communities in Canada are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS.
Bell Let's Talk day is about hope. It gives you a chance to take off your mask and talk about your pain. It allows you to mourn the loss of who you were and to say, "It's okay I'm like this now." It cracks open the darkness for a minute and gives you hope by letting you realize there are people who've made it out to the other side.
Now that I've experienced stability in mild doses as my medication is regularly tweaked to find the right balance, I question myself often. Is my thought to return to school to get my Masters something I really want? Or is it residual hypomania egging me on? I still wake at night and watch as the thoughts battle each other for my undivided attention.
Closing this access gap means expanding health systems to include grassroots outreach and the community-level advocates who lead the charge. It is well documented that village-level and even home-based HIV testing greatly improve rates of testing. The same is true for HIV education, counselling, and treatment follow-up.
If you are among the lucky population who does react well to medication, taking a pill may allow you to work through the problems you're facing in therapy and hopefully you won't have to be on medication for the rest of your life. But the reality is that for some of us suffering from chronic mental illness, therapy isn't enough.
I started by telling you about my own experience in the world of abuse. I did this because those experiences are what helped me understand the importance of healing in light of a frightening situation. These women -- our sisters -- need our support and understanding to heal. But we cannot forget the men. At some point we are going to have to turn around and help heal this man. Many will think he is undeserving, but he too experienced trauma in his life which he has had to cope with. I'm not talking about forgiveness, I'm talking about compassion.
It won't surprise you to hear that women are among the world's most vulnerable populations. But it might surprise you to learn that one of the most difficult parts about being a woman is also one of the most natural: menstruation. A girl's transition into womanhood is often marked by the beginning of her menstrual cycle, an occasion that is celebrated in many cultures as an important rite of passage. But in many parts of East Africa, it marks the beginning of a lifetime of discomfort, embarrassing health problems, and even harassment. It marks the beginning of schoolyard bullying, missed days of school, and the start of a lifetime viewed as a sexual object.
Bruce and Lynn drove to their youngest daughter Emily's school to tell her that her brother had died by suicide. They next drove to London to pick up their other daughter, Aimee from university. Their cries filled the car along the highway. Lynn climbed in the backseat to hold Emily in her arms. At first, Aimee did not believe the news but slowly came to understand.
Someone who suffers with any form of a diagnosed mental health condition such as anxiety, bi-polar disorder or depression, are usually not able to be as open with their family, friends or workplace. There are no predictions to how someone will feel when they wake up in the morning. Many times people are patted on the back and told they are just having a bad day, or to pretty much suck it up.
Imagine a truck driver collapses over the wheel and slams into a school bus killing eight children. He'd had a heart attack. Now imagine a man takes a gun, enters a theatre and shoots randomly, killing eight children. It seems he had an acute psychotic break. The truck driver probably won't go to jail. But the young man? He'll be maligned and incarcerated. In truth, neither one is to blame for their illness or the tragic unpredictable events.
The stigma that is still associated with mental illness keeps so many hidden away. Fear is our biggest enemy: fear of receiving the diagnosis; fear of accessing care; fear of others finding out; fear of those with mental illness. Twenty-seven per cent of the population are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness. It just isn't cool to have a mental illness. You don't see the famous or the infamous proudly wearing a bracelet identifying them with the needs of the mentally ill.
The events in Newtown sparked a lot of discussion on gun control and the media's representation of children following violent events. However, as is the case with most well-covered human tragedies, mental health discourse was decidedly missing from the reporting. "Evil visited this community today," the Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said following the shooting. Such words are not uncommon following acts of violence, but their prominence still made me cringe. I have to ask, whose "evil" are we talking about when we classify this tragedy as such?
World AIDS Day is Saturday. How will you remember and commemorate? Last year alone, 1.7 million people worldwide died as a result of AIDS-related causes. Their deaths must not be in vain. In their memory let us take a more proactive stance in observing this special day this year. End HIV stigma now is a good message. But how? Complacency about AIDS is a major problem and education is still our only vaccine. But sometimes, somewhat surprisingly, even the educated need educating.
Thursday, September 13, 2012 marks the 4th Annual Hats On For Awareness gala! The event started in 2008 by my good friend Enza Cecchia and her partner in this crusade, Benny Caringi. Like all previous events, this is a night to bring attention to those suffering in the shadows of mental illness and addiction. I was lucky enough to interview Enza & Benny who shared some pretty jaw-dropping facts about mental illness.
Recent statistics show that at least one in five of us will have some sort of mental illness over the course of our lifetime. My hope is that there can come a point when it won't matter that you live with mental illness. But until then the best way to reduce stigma is to talk and educate yourself. The more often we have a discussion, the more we learn.
Prejudices against the overweight seem to develop early. One study found that children as young as three years of age believed fat people were "mean, stupid, ugly, and had few friends." People suffering from emotional distress in connection with weight problems are much less likely to succeed in their efforts to improve their health. For our society in general, a shift in attitude would help.