Dealing with the stigma surrounding mental illness is the biggest obstacle that ill individuals have to deal with. It creeps into all areas of daily living. The stigma exists within the healthcare system, as well as amongst the general public. It hampers the recovery of individuals and prevents others from asking for help.
One in five Canadians will have a mental illness, an illness that is as physical as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Yet, these other physical illnesses do not carry the same kind of stigma. The worst thing is that there are many ill individuals out there who need help.
Often times someone is not diagnosed until they get in trouble with the law or have an overdose from street drugs. It should not take getting into trouble before one seeks help. The stigma keeps them away.
I know a woman who went into the hospital because of what turned out to be pancreatitis. She was admitted to the hospital and put on painkillers and antibiotics. Although she kept asking for her antidepressants, the hospital staff would not give them to her because they were not on her chart. This was not due to stigma, but what happened next definitely was. After five days of not getting her antidepressants, she became paranoid and started hearing voices. She went for a walk in the hallway and when she got to the nurses’ station she heard this lab tech say “Oh, they let the weirdo out!” It came across loud and clear. The disrespect this shows a person, no matter what the illness, is unacceptable.
All people with a mental illness ask is to be treated with respect and dignity. To be treated no different than anyone else. Just a word can have a devastating effect on a person struggling with depression. Would you call a person with diabetes or cancer a “weirdo?” Not likely. So, that is all it takes, acceptance and respect.
At the root of the stigma is fear and ignorance, so education is needed to rid society of the false beliefs about mental illness.
The Peer Support Services of the Canadian Mental Health Association is launching an anti-stigma campaign by providing buttons to supporters to initiate conversation surrounding mental illness. These conversation pieces will be available through the Peer Support Services office (3100-28th Ave). A small donation on orders of more than one button will be required to cover future production of more buttons. Otherwise the buttons will be free to those who want to show their support.
Thank you, to Five Star Awards here in Vernon for helping us with the production of the buttons.
If there are any questions, or to order buttons, please call the office at 250-542-6155.
Patricia Harding is peer support co-coordinator at Peer Support Services of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Vernon.