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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

It's Not Just In Their Heads

I'm taking a break from my usual blog style to shed some light on an issue that is very personal to me. Mental illness.
Mental illness encompasses a whole variety of disorders: Schizophrenia, bi-polar, insomnia, anorexia, bulimia, Tourette's syndrome, OCD, phobias, Dissociative Identity Disorder (multi-personality disorder, which is completely different from schizophrenia), autism, Capgras syndrome (a delusion that loved ones have been replaced by identical-looking imposters), dementia, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)...

All that I have listed above, and more, is involved when one sees the term, 'mental illness'. It is a very, very wide spectrum.

One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. I am part of that one in five. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) when I was thirteen, and I have suffered from depression off and on since I was a child. I was on Ritalin for my ADD until I was about 14, when I made a decision to stop taking it once my prescription ran out. While the medication had it's benefits, if I didn't take it at the right time, it interfered with my sleep patterns and made me feel like I had just consumed five cups of really strong coffee. I have been off Ritalin for 12 years and, while I have my bad days, I have lived with my ADD. I have it; it does not have me.

I had my first bout of depression at the age of eight. My mother had been working days, and was always home when I got home from school. But, she had taken an evening shift at work, and was, suddenly, no longer home when I got home. I do not handle sudden change very well, and I didn't know how to handle not having her home. I entered a state of depression and my grades dropped as a result. I no longer got the same enjoyment out of life as I used to. At eight, I had no idea what I was going through and it was both confusing and scary. When my mom went back to working a day shift, everything went back to normal.

My second bout of depression occurred at age twelve, and for the same reason the first one had. My mother took a 4pm-midnight shift at work, and again, wasn't home. Like before, I only saw her on the weekends when she wasn't working and I wasn't at school. That wasn't enough for me. I wanted her to be home when I got home. Again things were suddenly not the same as they had been. It took a toll on my grades and my emotional state until my mom's shift went back to the way it had been.

My last bout with depression took the biggest toll on me and my outlook on life and the people in it. Seven years ago, I was raped by my boyfriend at the time. The stigma surrounding rape told me it was my fault, and the amount of shame I felt was downright crippling. The stigma told me to keep it to myself because I would end up being blamed. So, I did, until I couldn't take it any more. I had little to no support from the people I desperately needed it from. Cue a long, several-year battle with depression. I had taken a summer job shortly after the rape, and I was forced to pretend like nothing was wrong while I was at work. I suffered in silence. My support system ended up coming from an online community I had been a part of for a year. The support I received came from online and though it wasn't exactly tangible, I am thankful for those people because they gave me somewhere to turn when the physical people around me didn't. Throughout those years, there were people who didn't understand, people who told me to, “Get over it”. Depression isn't something one can simply “get over”. For many people, it is a constant struggle, and requires medication to function the way they should. I was able to get through it without the assistance of medication, but it wasn't without some awfully dark days.

Over the course of my depression, several people passed away – a family friend, a high school friend, my grandmother, two members of my church, my cousin, and my father. Add to that, two relationships that ended with me being cheated on. It was the perfect storm for a prolonged bout with depression.

Mental illness is real. Mental illness governs the way we live. The woman with OCD washes her hands a hundred times a day because her brain tells her to. The man with Capgras syndrome thinks his wife is an imposter because his brain tells him she is. If I am told to do three different things at once, or if I have two people talking to me at the same time, I shut down because my brain cannot process it all at once. I can only really do one thing at a time, and I am often pulled in different directions. Friends who have ever gone out to dinner with me know this first hand. I can be sitting in a restaurant fully engaged in conversation, and then a song I like comes over the speakers. I am suddenly drawn to that song for a few seconds. I do come back to the conversation, but I may have forgotten where we were in it. This is something my friends I laugh at and I have a sense of humour when it comes to my ADD (which is wonderful), but mental illness is a serious thing. It is not just “in our heads”. It is real and we must deal with it on a daily basis.

It is something we are all affected by. One in five of us will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetime. I am willing to bet you know, or knew, someone with autism, someone who is bi-polar, someone with dementia or ADHD or depression. It isn't easy for both the person with the disorder and the friend to deal with it. Many people don't understand what is going on, and therefore, do not deal with it the way it should be dealt with. Mental illness should not be taken lightly; it is a serious issue. Mental illness should not be suffered alone; it can be a damn scary thing, and a support system is vital. This support system could be as simple as a friend to confide in, or it could be a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.

Today, Bell Canada, a television and telephone provider, is hosting “Let's Talk”. Let's Talk is a campaign during which, money will be raised to raise awareness for mental illness. For every text, every mobile and long distance call made, every tweet using #BellLetsTalk, and every Facebook share of their Bell Let's Talk image, Bell will donate 5¢ to mental health initiatives. This is an annual event, and has raised thousands of dollars for the cause.

Some facts regarding mental illness in Canada:
  • 500,000 Canadians miss work due to a form of mental illness every day. (Mental Health Commission of Canada)
  • Only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them. (CMHA)
  • Right now, approximately 3 million Canadians are suffering from depression. (CMHA)
  • 2/3 people suffer in silence because they fear judgement and rejection. (Canadian Medical Association)
  • 27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness (Canadian Medical Association)
  • Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. (Canadian Medical Association)

(information taken from http://www/

Mental illness is a serious issue. There are days when my ADD causes me to seem scatterbrained, and leaves me unable to concentrate on any one things for very long. Though, I have not suffered from depression for about a year now, and I have learned to appreciate the good, small things in my life, I still have some cloudy days. These days cannot be helped, but I continue on because it's the only thing I can do; it's the only thing I know how to do.

If you are a Bell Canada customer, please, send out those texts and phone your cousin who lives on the opposite coast from you. If you are not a Bell customer, flood your friends' twitter feeds with #BellLetsTalk, share that Facebook image a thousand times over. 5 cents may not seem like a lot of money, but if enough of us get together, we can raise enough to help those who need it.