Taking A Stand Against Stigma

No Meatless Monday recipe tonight, folks! It’s Mental Health Week for the Canadian Mental Health Association!

As some of you may already know, I am very interested in mental health and raising awareness about the stigma surrounding mental illness (perhaps you remember my very first post about Bell’s Let’s Talk Day). It amazes me sometimes what poor attitudes and perceptions people can have towards those coping with mental health issues – even if it’s a close friend, loved one or relative. One can still be mentally healthy while coping with a mental illness, just as one can be mentally unhealthy even without a mental illness.

In an attempt to take a stand against the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health issues, I am going to write about the mental health issues I struggled with during university and how stigma served as a significant barrier to seeking help. Hopefully it will open some eyes, minds, and encourage others to share their stories! After all, 1 in 5 Canadians will be affected by a mental illness at some point during their lives.

My Story

For a brief period during my early years of university (about 6 months or so) I was experiencing an emotionally difficult time. Recent life events had me feeling rather unbalanced and insecure. I would cry a lot for no particular reason, I had insomnia and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until 5 a.m., and on several occasions I experienced anxiety attacks. I knew something was wrong, but I fell victim to negative self-talk by convincing myself that I deserved to feel this way. I deserved to feel unhappy because I was not a good person. The fact that I was normally such a positive person made things worse, because I was scared to tell anyone I knew what I was experiencing. I didn’t want them to see me differently or label me as something I was not. Fear, anger, shame, embarrassment, stress… These, my friends, are the effects of stigma!

Looking back now, I don’t think I always did the best job at hiding my feelings, even though I was trying to. I think subconsciously I was trying not to hide anything in an attempt to “tell” people that I needed help, without actually asking for help (if that makes any sense). Long story short, it got to a point where I broke down and finally told the one person I did not want to reveal anything to – my boyfriend, who I had just started dating at the time – that I needed help.

After making an appointment with a physician, it was determined that I was experiencing some symptoms of depression and anxiety, though not enough to warrant a medically diagnosable mental illness. Although I attended some counselling sessions and took medication for the anxiety issues for a little while, I have to say that what truly helped improve my mental health was social support from others. I will never forget when my boyfriend said, “I may not always know what to do or say, but I am here for you.” That’s all I really needed. Supportive individuals to help drown out the negative self-talk and replace bad thoughts with good ones. I think the real turning point came over the Christmas holidays. I was locked up in my room feeling rather down when a friend of mine called me from a party he was at with a group of my friends. He said he just called to say hi, and that everyone else said hi and they wished I was there. That one phone call, though seemingly insignificant, started to alter my way of thinking. It made me realize what wonderful people I had (and still have) in my life and how much they care about me. It was time to let go of the negative energy that was polluting my life and surround myself with the things that truly mattered – family, friends, laughter and love :)

After that night, things gradually got better and returned to how they used to be. Over the past several years I’ve learned to surround myself with the right people and practice positive self-talk. I’ve adopted healthier habits (which I’m sure you have gathered if you follow my blog regularly!) that have only helped to improve my physical and mental well-being. In my opinion, life can only get better from here :)

Hopefully this story helps inspire some positive change, whether it’s in others’ attitudes, beliefs or actions! It’s been interesting seeing mental health issues getting more attention in the media lately. Check out this article on the Mental Health Commission’s newly proposed $4-billion mental health strategy! In addition, I strongly encourage you to visit the Mental Health Week website to learn more about mental illness, stigma, and how you can exercise your mental health!

– Be Well, Stay Positive  xo

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