Sunday, 12 February 2012

Call it what it is, so we can deal with it

Feb. 8 came and went this week, and with it Bell Canada's campaign about mental health. For every text or long distance call made on its network that day, it donated a specified amount of money to mental health services (although, to be honest, I couldn’t tell that’s what it was doing from the ads, but that’s another blog on the topic of clear language!).

The ads featured Clara Hughes, a Canadian multi-medal winner at both summer and winter Olympics, talking about having suffered from depression and ending with, “On February 8, let’s talk.”

I say let’s talk about it every day. Let’s make it a common topic, so there’s no more judgement or stigma to “She’s mentally ill” than there is to “He has cancer.”

Recently someone from a previous generation was telling me about a friend with a recurring illness. “He’s had trouble with his nerves for years,” she said. “Now he’s hearing the voices again.”

I’m sorry, but hearing voices isn’t just “nerves.” She doesn’t want to say he’s crazy, and in her mind, those are the only two options, “nerves” or “crazy.” No acknowledgement of the breadth and depth (and boy, does it have depth) and power of mental illness.

The Canadian Institute of Health Research says one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lives, although many of them are afraid to talk to anyone about it. The Depression Awareness Community, an online support group for people suffering from mental illness, including depression, puts that number at one in three. I believe it.

I like this quote from their Facebook page: 

"Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are NOT signs of weakness.
  They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I appreciate their recognition of the struggle. It reminds me of a question I’ve often pondered: how do you define a mental breakdown? Does a person have to pull out their hair and run screaming into the night to have suffered a nervous breakdown?

So I finally looked it up; Wikipedia says it’s “a specific acute time-limited reactive disorder, involving symptoms such as anxiety or depression, usually precipitated by external stressors.”

Oh, “time-limited.” So all the people who long to run screaming away from their lives but can’t because their spouses, their kids, their parents, their pets, etc. all depend on them too much for them to give up, don’t qualify as having mental or nervous breakdowns because their condition lasts too long.

So they suffer longer, and even if they're willing to talk about it, they often don’t even get the recognition of being ill. That sucks.

Just like mental illness sucks. Let’s just say so, and then try to do something about it. It's not an easy job, and it takes more than one day to deal with it, as anyone who's lived with it can attest. 

But it starts with acknowledging it as a legitimate illness, something we can do every day.


  1. I know the stigma of mental illness all too well. I had a fellow who was training to be a pychologist in the cognitive behaviour field. He got mad at me for "taking to long to get well." He told me how he dealt with problems and I should do the same. And also wondered "how could moving be so stressful as he has moved many times". I finally had enough and told him "to never equate anything he has done with anything I have done."
    I'm still battling depression but I now have a very good counsellor who has helped me immensely with my anxiety. It will always be "one day at a time".

    1. Thanks for your open and honest response, Alicat. Finding the right counsellor can make all the difference. I don't know how people can pass the exam to be a psychologist or psychiatrist when their standard response is to tell their story and expect that you can do whatever they did and get healthy, but apparently they do, as we both can verify!

      And while it will always be one day at a time, I'm glad you've found someone who is making a difference for you. And good for you for telling the other one what he should have already known!