Recently I spent an entire day with a beautiful individual giving our time and raising money to a great charity organization. No one knew that as he was giving so much to others, he was the one that needed the help. Trevor O’Keefe was a decorated RCMP officer, he lived his life constantly giving to other people in need and pushing his personal needs aside. Corporal O’Keefe is one of countless first responders that are suffering from PTSD quietly. First responders are constantly witnessing horrific things and then expected to “suck it up” and continue with their everyday lives. Now that we are more comfortable with speaking out about mental health issues we need to bring the awareness to absolutely everyone regardless of occupation, race, gender, etc. “When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ illness becomes wellness.” First responders are constantly keeping us safe and making us their first priority but when it comes to their mental health no one is putting them first.
I’ve wanted to talk about my experience with depression for a long time, but the people who know you don’t want to hear because it’s painful and the people who don’t well… don’t care.
I’ve always tried to be very honest about my struggles, not for attention but because I desperately want to break the stigma against it, breaking the silence so to say. I often get the sense when I talk about it that people don’t believe me when I say I used to cut, or that I struggle with anxiety attacks on nearly a daily basis, or that I am only alive because of the medication I take. One of the hardest things about living with depression is getting people to understand what you are going through without looking pathetic. So that is why I want to give you a day in the life of me, someone who has been living with clinical depression for the majority of her life. I hope that some of you can identify with this and know you’re not alone, or have a better understanding of what your peers are going through when they admit that they are depressed. Because just understanding us and letting us do what we need to do to treat our illness is so important.
Every day I have to convince myself to get up. Usually I remember to take my medication but I have a really bad memory and usually at least one day a week I leave the house without them. Those days are usually worse. I usually go to Tim Horton’s in the morning for a tea. The familiarity of the drink helps me concentrate and calm down. If I’m feeling particularly shitty I’ll probably also get a doughnut, although the shame of it doesn’t make me feel much better either way.
After my second class for the day I am usually in pain. When I say ‘in pain’ what I really mean is the indescribable depressive feeling I get when I can’t fake a smile anymore. I am lucky to live very close to campus so at this time I usually try to go home and take a breather, but if I have class… well I’ll often skip. I’ll tell my classmates I feel sick, or that I don’t care about class because it’s a joke, or too easy- and I’d rather just read the slides from home. In actuality, I just need to sit and cry or sleep off the shitty feelings. If I can’t go home, due to presentations or tests, then a quick bathroom visit is necessary. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve sat in a UA bathroom sniffling away tears. People will often say, ‘just smile and you’ll feel better’ but that has never worked for me. When I’m having a depressive episode, if I smile I almost certainly WILL burst into tears. I don’t know if I’m the only one like this, but faking a smile is painful a physical level.
Recently I watched the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story. For those of you who have not seen this movie, it is about a clinically depressed teenage boy named Craig, who checks himself into the psychiatric ward of a hospital after contemplating suicide. There were quite a few things I learned from this movie:
- People think mental illness can be cured almost instantaneously. In the movie Craig check himself into the hospital in hopes of being given a quick fix to end his suicidal thoughts. He learns that this is not going to happen as depression can’t be cured overnight.
- A lot of people may not accept or understand your mental illness. Craig’s father is aware of why he checked himself into the hospital and about Craig’s constant struggle with depression, however he still places a lot of stress on his son. He does not realize that one of the reasons Craig was suicidal in the first place was because of this constant stress.
- Not all mental illnesses look the same. When Craig’s friends find out he is in the hospital, they are both shocked and confused. It was not apparent that Craig was suffering from depression and would consider ending his life. On the other hand, when Craig first enters the psychiatric ward, he sees another patient talking to himself about what seems to be nothing. He is quick to question who this man is, and informed that he suffers from schizophrenia.
- It is important to find escapes or activities which make you happy. While in the hospital Craig attend an arts and crafts class in which he begins to draw a map. He realizes that this is something he loves to do and plans to continue drawing once he is released as it helps him forgot about all his problems and worries.
- There are people who love and care about you. When seeing the hospitals psychologist Craig reveals that he did not actually attempt suicide because he knows he has his friends and family who love him. Throughout his stay he comes to realize how important these individuals truly are.
Since when did needing to step away from everything for a while show weakness…Or does it?
When you come from an old school family, taking time off, stepping away from a situation or anything that involves time to think and reflect meant that you were doing one of two things…giving up or just being lazy. Why it’s believed I do not know. I mean in some cases I understand the rational behind it, you know if it was that I was at home day in and day out on by butt watching TV instead of going to work or doing something with my life, not having a purpose then I get it. But when you honestly just need a little break from the life of school, when you just can not handle the stress anymore and mentally just can not do it anymore when did that become a weakness.
In my family, there is this whole thing of mind over matter, to the point where if anything was wrong they would just insist that if I say i’m okay and keep telling my self I am okay than I will be okay…. And even though for somethings it worked, when it came to mental illness and depression, that wasn’t really the best way to deal with it. That’s just pretty much saying that my problems will just disappear if I try to ignore them. I guess before me and my struggle with mental illness, my family never really believed mental illness to be a thing, and there are still people I know that believe that mental illness is just a hoax, and that I am just over exaggerating and stuff like that. What are you to say to those people, the people that just take you as a joke or a fake, and act like your just putting on a show and that if you really wanted to you could just snap out of it and be “normal”… but what is normal??
As I have stated in a blog before, this year has been one of my toughest mentally and because of it, I think it would be best to take a break from school next year, even for just one semester to just step away and breath. I love school, I always have and I know for a fact that I will go back to school if I take the semester off, or the year because I love learning, but I do need a break. How are you suppose to explain to someone who thinks mental health is not a “thing” that I need to take a break from school for the sole purpose of my mental health, and that it’s not me being lazy or giving up but the fact that the state of my mental health is more important and it’s okay if it takes me an extra year to graduate. I guess I am just tired of having to explain myself, and it’s not even having to explain myself to my own family but its my friends and my boyfriends family as well. Why should I even have to explain myself! To this day, when you say you have a mental illness a lot of people see it as a weakness, and I just don’t understand how? Why is something that you are struggling with all of a sudden become a weakness, why are we sometimes seen as a lesser person and how can we as a community over come this stigma!
Stigmatization – the degrading attitude that discredits a person because of an attribute they have (in this case, mental illnesses).
Stigmatization is the one thing we all learn about in school, the one attitude that can discriminate and make others feel helpless because of a certain attribute they may have. My experience with stigmatization is a bit different than what others may have, it has not directly happened to me, but others that I have been around.
I volunteer at a great government-run organization where I get to help children under 12 who have a wide range of mental health issues. I have the pleasure to volunteer with children who live with depression, anxiety, OCD, ODD, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and many other mental health related disorders. I get to know these children, I get to hangout with them, I get to listen to their hardships, their achievements, and their stories about birthday parties and school days. As much as I love this position, it can be hard at times because I get to know many children who are taught to hide and be ashamed of their issues.
Its sad to think children this young have been taught to keep quiet about their issues, to act as though they do not have them. I remember one pair of siblings who told me they weren’t allowed to tell their friends or family that they come to the organization – instead they tell their friends they go to a babysitter’s house. I’ve had another child ask me if he’s a bad person because of his diagnosis, and another laugh about how her parents tell her to lie to her friends about who I am (I guess I’m her “fake” cousin). These children are so young, yet are already taught that they need to “hide” a part of them, as if attending this organization is unnatural. This makes them feel as though their mental illness is wrong, is something to be ashamed of, and is something that you need to lie about in order to be considered “normal”.
My question is what is the big deal? Why is society so quick to stigmatize mental health issues – and why are parents teaching their children that having a mental health disorder must be hidden? These creative, smart, witty little individuals are being taught that their psychological disorders are restricting, rather than something that is completely manageable. A person is not defeated by a diagnosis; a person should not be labelled as their diagnosis; a person and his or her diagnosis are separate entities that live together. We need to break this cycle of stigmatization and ensure children, teenagers, and adults don’t have to be ashamed of their mental health. We need to stop labelling mental health issues as “abnormal”, because in reality, what is normal anyways?
Around exam time, students are obviously stressed. Stress is normal. I actually believe it’s healthy. I know students try to make light of their stress, and it’s probably a good way to take a breath amidst the stress of school. One thing that caught my attention recently though was through a speech one of my fellow classmates did, which was based around how people view mental illness thanks to the media. This got me asking myself, “have I ever romanticized or made light of a mental illness?”
I think the first time I realized how often we brush off signs of mental illness was when I saw a tweet around exam time that displayed the photo of Britney Spears shaving her head, with the caption “exams got me as stressed as Britney”. I will admit, I was guilty of laughing along with this, and maybe even retweeting it. But when I really thought about it, this was one moment where I did not consider how often the media displays mental illnesses as humorous or not as serious issues.
After hearing my classmates speech, I finally began to understand how the media impacts our views of mental illness. Think of the countless celebrities that have entered rehab, and how the media displayed their actions. Not one headline suggested helping these people, and rarely did it suggest mental illness as an impact at all. No wonder we sometimes confuse seeking attention with an internal mental battle. What we see in the media is what we believe, whether or not we think that is true. In our daily lives we come across more advertisements and media displays than ever before, and it shapes how we think.
Not only do I hope people can have an eye opening moment like I did through my classmate’s speech, but I hope people actually critically think about what they see. I know that since having my eyes opened to a new view on the media and how it shapes our views on mental illness, I have reconsidered retweeting any “stressed like Britney” tweets. I hope you do the same.
May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. To celebrate, I have written an article about LGBTQ people and mental health.
What factors influence LGBTQ mental health?
Social determinants of health play a large role in determining the physical and mental health of individuals, and this is especially true when we examine the mental health of LGBTQ and other marginalized individuals. Some important factors which lead to positive mental health and well-being include:
- Social inclusion and freedom from discrimination
- Income and employment security
- Access to safe and affordable housing
However, LGBTQ individuals, in particular trans* individuals, face significant barriers when it comes to these determinants of health:
- LGBTQ individuals experience stigma, prejudice and discrimination at a higher rate than the general population. This is especially true for trans* individuals, as well as individuals with intersectional identities (individuals identifying with more than one marginalized group).
- Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation more than doubled between 2007 and 2008, and were the most violent of all hate crimes.
- An Ontario-based study of trans* people found that 20% had experienced physical or sexual assault due to their identity, and that 34% were subjected to verbal threats or harassment.
- LGBTQ people are over-represented among low-income Canadians. An Ontario-based study found that 50% of trans* individuals were living on less than $15,000 a year.
- 20% of homeless youth in Toronto identify as LGBTQ.
Additional factors affecting mental health in LGBTQ people include the ‘coming out’ process, internalized stigma and oppression, gender transition, isolation and alienation, loss of family support, and the impact of HIV/AIDS.
What is the current status of mental health in LGBTQ individuals?
- Studies have shown that LGBTQ people have higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse.
- LGBTQ people have double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than non-LGBTQ people.
- Research suggests that use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances may be 2 to 4 times higher among LGBTQ people than non-LGBTQ people.
- A Toronto-based study found significantly higher rates of tobacco use among LGBTQ people (36%) than other adults (17%).
- Studies have shown that approximately 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide compared to 7% of youth in general.
- In an Ontario-based study, 77% of trans* respondents had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide.
How can we reduce the risk factors and improve mental health in the LGBTQ community?
- Reduce homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia through education and awareness
- Create supportive and inclusive workplaces and neighbourhoods
- Encouragepeople to connect with other LGBTQ individuals to develop a sense of community and belonging
- Address the social determinants of health such as employment security and affordable housing
- Eliminate the stigma of mental health as well as the stigma of being LGBTQ
How can health providers play a role in improving LGBTQ mental health?
- Recognize and acknowledge the impact of internalized stigma and discrimination on mental health
- Become familiar with the social determinants of health
- Promote family acceptance of LGBTQ youth and encourage them to connect with LGBTQ communities and organizations
- Provide equity and inclusivity training to ensure front-line mental health professionals interact with LGBTQ clients without stereotypes or discrimination
- Understand intersectionality and its relationship to mental health
- Increase familiarity with resources to support LGBTQ individuals at greatest risk for suicide, particularly youth and trans* individuals.
References and Additional Resources
Egale Canada: http://egale.ca/backgrounder-lgbtq-youth-suicide/
LGBTQ Mental Health Factsheet: http://lgbtqpn.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2014/08/LGBT%20Mental%20Health.pdf
Rainbow Health Ontario: http://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/
Please be patient with me
As I have yet to show you a side of me
Which I try to hide away from you,
My friends, my family, and my peers
A side of me that’s alone in the shower
Curled up in a ball struggling to breathe
Dry heaving and hyperventilating
In the midst of an anxiety attack
Please be patient with me
As I live with a stigma
That sometimes brings me down
Into a deep sadness I can’t control
As a part of an Australian awareness campaign, Soften the FCK up created a video of a number of young men talking about their struggles and what those struggles led them to contemplate: suicide.
Please note: this post was written by a student who wished to remain anonymous
Before I get into the specifics about a time I reached out to a friend in need, I wanted to share a time that I did nothing. In grade 8, one of my peers committed suicide. I was absolutely devastated, how could anyone so young lose the will to live? It was so hard to process and I felt sick thinking that if just one person had reached out to her she may have had a very different outcome!
Many people feel very alone in their struggle and letting them know you are there to help can make all the difference. It can be a very nerve-racking experience to approach a friend that you are concerned about, which I completely understand. I cared a lot about this person but I didn’t know how they would react to me telling them that I was concerned about their mental health.