Eliminating the stigma

Mental Illness Awareness Week hits home

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

Megan Rose (middle) with her friends Saba Ahmad (right) and Aysha Ikram at last year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week walk in Fort McMurray. Supplied Photo

Megan Rose (middle) with her friends SabaAhmad (right) and Aysha Ikram at last year’s Mental Illness Awareness Week walk in Fort McMurray. Supplied Photo

‘When people find out I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) they think it’s a cute disorder where I’m a little ditsy sometimes, and I randomly yell out: “SQUIRREL”. That isn’t my life. That isn’t my ADHD. I wish it was.’

Megan Rose’s Facebook post left a lot of her friends thinking. And, then there was more.

‘My ADHD is crippling. I can’t put together thoughts. When I have to focus on even the simplest task, like talking or writing something, people think I’m crazy. I have to ask people to repeat themselves in a conversation over and over and over. And while I’m asking them over and over, my legs are shaking like crazy because I’m trying to let out all my energy so I can let my brain work. If I try to read something, I read it six times over, and I don’t retain any of the information. I get important dates mixed up even though I wrote it down everywhere, and I lose EVERYTHING. I’m on my 35th debit card in less than six years. I went through seven pairs of gloves in 3 months. I’m always disorganized, even though I try so hard to organize my life. I get so overwhelmed by it sometimes, that I just break down and cry. Sometimes I feel too stupid to even belong on this planet. I feel like I can’t do anything right, and that I should just give up…And then I take my medication. And everything is okay again. I can think. I can process information properly. I can read something once and retain the information. I remember that I am smart. I do get good grades. I do belong on this planet. I can concentrate and I have motivation. So then I get up, and be the person I know I am on the inside, but it just gets lost in my ADHD sometimes. If only people knew what it was like to live inside my brain’.

Rose, a nursing student at Keyano College, said, she has: “Come to terms with her mental illness. It’s a part of me,” but, many still need more understanding.

This is where Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) helps.

Running from October 2 to 8, and proclaimed as Mental Illness Awareness Week by Mayor Blake, free events have already started taking place in town beginning with a kick-off walk on October 2.

“An annual national public education campaign designed to open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness, the week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, and is now coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH),” explains Emma Murray, Fund Development/Events Coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Wood Buffalo (CMHA).

“One of MIAW’s major initiatives is the Faces of Mental Illness campaign, a national outreach campaign featuring the stories of Canadians living in recovery from a mental illness, in an effort to raise awareness and end the stigma associated with mental illness. MIAW is so important because we need to place mental illness on the national stage by educating Canadians and healthcare practitioners on the importance of early recognition, proper diagnosis, and effective medical treatment and show that by doing so, individuals living with a mental illness are capable of leading rewarding and productive lives. This year the theme is spreading awareness, reducing stigma #MIAW2016. We hope to reach more Canadians than ever before and encourage them to share their personal stories about stigma and how it negatively affects them in their personal life, in the workplace, or in the community.”

And, community mental health is in sharp focus this year due to the wildfires.

“Everyone in Wood Buffalo was impacted during the wildfires and the evacuation. Mental illness can take many forms, just as physical illness does. We all need to work together to raise our voices and be heard to end the stigma associated, because there is no shame in mental health. This year marks the 24th anniversary of the campaign. CMHA is partnering with Alberta Health Services and Some Other Solutions to offer free events and workshops to the community throughout the week and we hope you can join us.”

Murray notes, the stigma continues due to fear and misunderstanding.

“Myths, misconceptions and media coverage play a large role. People with a mental illness are viewed as unpredictable and therefore should be avoided. Yet, mental illness affects more than six million people across the country or one if five Canadians. Unfortunately, many people with mental illness will not seek the help they need out of fear of shame and judgment. However, if you, or someone you know, has a mental illness, there is good news: all mental health can be treated and you can live and lead a rewarding and productive life.”

Nevertheless, she feels there’s positive change coming about.

“I think the culture is changing and growing with more acceptance towards mental health. The best way to eliminate stigma is to get people to talk about it. For those individuals who have no experience with mental illness – they will get better understanding of it by being able to relate to an illness if they see their friend, family or colleague, who they perceive as completely normal and successful individuals.”

For more information on MIAW events and to sign up, please visit www.woodbuffalo.cmha.ca

– Connect Weekly –