Winnie's Blog

March 2012

Suffering the Stigma of Mental Health

Psycho, Schizo, Junkie, Lazy, Selfish?

Just imagine: You arrive at the doctor?s office after months of suffering and grappling with your symptoms. You are sick and scared, only to be told you have cancer? diabetes ? or heart disease. You will need ongoing treatment for your new illness or you could die or at best, seriously impair your quality of life.

But, you are told there is just one problem. No one ? or at least not very many people - will believe that you really have this diagnosis. Your family members will say you are just seeking attention. Your co-workers will say you are just trying to get out of work (again), your "ex? will say you always were a loser.

We can?t even fathom such a scenario and yet EVERY DAY this happens to people suffering with mental illness. For those suffering with anxiety disorders, clinical depression and personality disorders etc. society can be an impatient and unsupportive caregiver.

?The person who can?t get out of bed filled with sadness is told: "Stop being so selfish. There are people who have it way worse than you do. Snap out of it.?

?The person who can?t concentrate long enough to complete a simple job is told: "You are lazy and just expect people to look after you.?

?The person who experiences mood swings to be told: "We?re tired of your moodiness. You?re bringing us down. You can choose to be happy, it is a choice.?

?The person battling addictions is told: "You choose that lifestyle and just have no will power. You only care about yourself.?

No one suffering with a mental illness can just stop feeling what they are feeling by wishing.

Pippa Wysong writes in Canadian Living article "The Top 10 Mental Health Myths? "There are multiple types of mental illness, each with its own features and underlying causes?each mental illness is a variation on the theme of brain chemistry gone awry, affecting things like mood and perception. But each of these illnesses has its own specific causes, features and approaches to treatment.?

Just like the person suffering from cancer, diabetes or heart disease, mental illness is a real sickness. Sadly, it is an illness that inconveniences others and makes them uncomfortable, resulting in the sufferer not only feeling out of control of their emotions and responses- but GUILTY too. Often times they also face rejection, intimidation and alienation. How tragic.

If you know or love someone suffering like this, wipe away the stigma and extend a hand of understanding and compassion. It might be the only gift you can give them.

By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Mental Health Myths and Misconceptions - Part One


Statistics show that almost one out of every five Canadians experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. Yet, misconceptions, stigma, misinformation and negativity prevail. According to the Canadian Mental Health Associations 2008 National Report Card, 46 per cent of Canadians think people use the term "mental illness? as an excuse for bad behaviour. The poll also showed that only 50 per cent of Canadians would confide with a friend or relative if they were diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent who would tell others if they were diagnosed with cancer.


Living with depression and anxiety is difficult enough without adding stigma to these experiences. Not to mention, many people struggling with these issues have grown up believing these same myths and misinformation themselves. Imagine feeling guilty or ashamed for having cancer or diabetes? Imagine struggling with a chronic life altering condition and feeling the need to hide your symptoms? It is unthinkable ? yet it happens every day.


In keeping with the recent mention of Mental Health Day in February, the next couple posts will exam some of the myths and misinformation surrounding mental health issues. To begin this myth busting exercise here are some questions and answers:



1. True or False: Anxiety Disorders often occur with other illnesses? This is true.


2. What is the most common mental health problem in Canada: Depression, Schizophrenia or Anxiety Disorders? The answer is that Depression hits 1 in 5 people and Anxiety 1 in 12 and Schizophrenia 1 in 100. Depression is the common cold of mental illnesses.


3. Depression is very similar to feeling down or "blue." This is false. Depression is much worse than having a blue day. We all have a blue day now and again. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and it responds well to a combination of medication, talk therapy and exercise.


4. Most people successfully take control of the symptoms of anxiety by sheer will power and strength? This is false. You can NOT will it away. There are great treatments now for anxiety and it is most helpful if people ask for help. You don't need to do this alone.


5. People often won't talk about depression because they see it as a weakness or a personality trait? This is true especially for men. It is not a weakness or personality trait. It is an illness that needs treatment.


6. Christians (people of faith) get depression less often than non-Christians. False. Depression can hit anyone of any race, religion, colour or socio economic background. It is not a respecter of persons at all. People of faith often suffer more because they feel guilt that they shouldn't be feeling this way because they should be feeling the joy of the Lord. Shame accompanies their depression.


Come back for more about myths, misconceptions and stigma about mental health.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald


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Principles for Real Living:

  1. I am responsible for my own attitude
  2. My attitude affects my actions
  3. I can not change others, but I can influence others
  4. My emotions do not control my actions
  5. Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
  6. Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world

Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008