April 1, 2015
Do we hear it with less stigma than we did 5 years ago? What is less stigma? Is it zero stigma? Or is there some stigma-residue left over from the past? Maybe this stigma-residue doesn’t matter. We have come a long way haven’t we? Let’s do a test. Do you hear, “He is struggling with bipolar,” any differently than you hear, “She is struggling with breast cancer?” Close your eyes and say the two sentences. Do you hear them the same way?
Would you feel comfortable with your study-buddy having hyperglycemia? What about if he had bipolar? I am not judging. I still don’t know how I answer these questions even after the tragedy that just happened to my family.
Maybe we are sick of hearing the word stigma. Maybe we are making too much of this word…stigma. Let’s try another test. Would your teen be too embarrassed to tell you she had migraine headaches? Would she hide them? What about if she cried for no reason sometimes and at other times became crippled with anxiety? Would that kid tell you? Would she delay telling you? How would you react to the migraines versus the anxiety? Would it be the same? Stigma matters.
Maybe some of our sentence structures even need to change. We don’t say she took her life because of the stroke she had. But if he had mental illness, we say, “He took his life.” By what definition was that person “he” at the time? Was it the “he” you remember? What percentage of “original he” needs to be present for him to have culpability? Is 30% “original he” the right amount? He didn’t take his life. Mental illness took his life.
OK, so we adults can learn. But we are afraid of talking about mental illness with our kids because we are worried about freaking them out (or more truthfully it freaks us out). We can all recall (if we haven’t totally blocked it out) high school and university are hugely challenging social environments just when we are desperately trying to figure out who we are and where we are going; as if navigating these challenges isn’t hard enough, doing so with mental illness is even harder.
According to CAMH, 70% of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence, and young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group.
Is the language of our youth healthy? Cognitive Behavioural Therapists call “all or nothing thinking” statements cognitive distortions. “Everybody thinks I am weird.” “I am terrible at everything I do.” That sure doesn’t sound like the language used in our high schools does it? Oh, it does, doesn’t it? And that is only one of 10 total cognitive distortions. Look them up!
Cognitive distortions are thoughts that cause people to perceive reality inaccurately which reinforce negative thoughts and emotions. The halls of our high schools resonate with cognitive distortions. If repeated enough over the years they can become embedded as unhealthy thinking patterns, creating Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorders, Anxiety Disorders and more. This can lead to very difficult lives, lost jobs, failed relationships and even suicide. If there is an underlying mood disorder, such as bipolar, it is made even more dangerous.
We encourage kids and parents in our society to look out for warning signs for all kinds of ailments. What about mental illnesses? Do we understand them enough to look for warning signs?
This is all to say that we must work harder. It isn’t enough to passively allow an evolution of attitudes to slowly wash over people. That slow evolution of attitudes will have many lives laid at its feet before anything changes. We need to work on it within ourselves and explain why it is important to others and know how to look out for it in those we love.
When I hear the word bipolar I think of my son. I love you William. I miss you.
Please support Jack.org in its unique strategy of working with young people to educate other young people to create greater mental health awareness and remove its stigma forever. You can either donate to www.Jack.org generally, or you can donate in William Deane’s memory. But, you don’t even have to donate at all. If you just like this post in linkedin, or comment on this post, the power of social networking will spread the word about mental illness. And then call just one of your connections or friends who are not direct connections of mine and tell them to read this and have them spread it to their network. That is the key to fighting this battle.
It begins and ends with us…