Isn’t it about time we end the stigma of mental illness?
One of my main goals for writing my Not Just Clutter blog is to help dispel the misconceptions of compulsive hoarding disorder. By sharing my personal story, perhaps others will realize hoarders are not uneducated lazy slobs. Compulsive hoarding is complicated, heart-wrenching, and utterly baffling, but by trying to understand the nuances of hoarding, we can break down the stereotypes of not just this disorder, but of all mental illness.
Stop the Stigma
1 in 5 Canadians will experience some sort of mental health illness in their lifetime. The chances are pretty high you know someone struggling with mental health. Maybe they’re anxious about paying the bills. Maybe their mood swings from low to high to low before lunch time. Maybe she’s wrestling with post-partum depression and feels guilty for not bonding with her newborn baby. Maybe he’s new to Canada, having escaped with only the clothes on his back from his war-torn home country.
Maybe it’s you who feels like you’re barely keeping it together every single day.
And you hide it.
You hide it in shame. You shouldn’t have to.
Last week, I was sent reeling when I learned of the death of a 16-year old girl. This girl had been in my home several times, caring for my daughter, Maddie. I knew her to be smart, sensible, and compassionate. Talented and athletic. With a broad smile you couldn’t help but reflect with her around. She had plans, and her whole future ahead of her. We lost touch when she moved away from town, but I always considered her to be a positive role model for Maddie. It’s tragic enough that she died so young. It’s unspeakable that depression got a hold of her, driving her to suicide.
As a mother, I couldn’t help but imagine my own daughters at age 16, and wonder how I’ll possibly save them from the same fate. My heart weeps for this girls family and friends. I only knew her a fairly short time, but it was enough to be affected by her for life.
More than One Mental Illness
Sometimes, someone might be suffering from more than one mental illness. I know of someone with schizophrenia as well as depression & anxiety. You might think the schizophrenia is what affects this person the most, but it’s actually well controlled by medication. The anxiety is a daily struggle though.
A fellow child of a hoarder talks about her post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymic disorder on her blog Hoarding Child. I didn’t even know what dysthymic disorder was until she shared it with me through Twitter. A day later, another friend confided she also dealt with it. I had no idea. I respect the trust these people put in me. If they couldn’t trust at least one person with this, would they feel alone? Be a person other people can trust to tell, and together we’ll stop the stigma.
My Mom has a laundry list of health problems, mental and physical. I suspect they’re all related, and feed the compulsive hoarding. How could one possibly deal with chronic pain for over 20 years without depression, post-traumatic stress, and other complications? I remember one of the lows Mom went through when I was in my early Twenties. She leaned heavy on the table, head in hands weeping. I wrapped my arms around her without a clue of any other way of helping. She told me she wished someone would drag her out to the field and just shoot her.
We weren’t exactly sympathetic back then either. “Chin up. Don’t let yourself get in a funk.” What did we know? I was talking about this very memory with my Mom last night. And you know what? She doesn’t ever remember saying that…she insists she was never so low she wished to die. But I tell ya…that’s not something I’d dare make up, and I’m certain my ears work perfectly. She’s either in denial (no surprise there), or her memory has gotten foggy in the last 20 years.
So there. That’s 5 people within my inner circle who are dealing with mental illness; they’re just the first ones I thought of. I know there are others, and I’m ok with that. They’re not raving lunatics brandishing axes, nor are they speaking in tongues. They’re not standing on street corners preaching about the end of the world. They’re not homeless, own excessive amounts of cats, and I’ve never seen them go “postal.” (there’s a stigma that’s gotta go)
They’re just people dealing with a wicked twist of fate. Imbalanced chemicals in their brains and suddenly everything changes. No one asks for it. No one deserves it. Maybe it’ll be me next time. I’m lucky to have a support system to help me. My husband, Will, is rock solid. I hope he knows I’ve got his back, too.
You’re Not Alone
Whatever you’re feeling, please know you’re not alone. People love you, even people who don’t know you. The young girl I know who commit suicide last week will never know how the community pulled together to support her family and friends. When the mommy community in my town learned of this girls death, they immediately began an outpouring of concern and unbiased support. People who’d never met the girl, or her family, stepped up to provide food, money, and even clothes for the parents to wear to the funeral. Friends set up RIP Facebook pages with fond memories, smiling photos, and declarations of admiration. There’s no mistaking this girl was deeply loved. And she didn’t realize it when she needed it most.
What can we do?
Good question. What can we do? We need to be open-hearted for others to talk to us. We need to listen when friends share their struggles with us. Reserve your judgment and criticism, and show compassion instead. We need to talk for ourselves when others are willing to listen. As fellow citizens of Mankind, we all need to be supportive of one another. When many carry the weight of a few, the weight is suddenly more manageable. Do your best to avoid adding more weight with tasteless jokes and sweeping generalizations. As individuals, we don’t need to have all the answers, but we DO need to persist when we have unanswered questions.
National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace
Very recently, a new voluntary standard has been released to give employers a guideline for promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors. Brilliant! It’s about time we started giving mental health as much attention as physical health. They so often go hand in hand. Bell Canada has shown its commitment to this initiative by including mental health training for all Bell managers, and implementing a return to work program for employees affected by mental illness. Let’s see how many other corporations bring this on board. Watch for Bell Let’s Talk Day on February 12. Using social media, Bell hopes to raise money, but more importantly, awareness for mental health research.
Continue the Conversation, Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness
This is an on-going story. It’s being written every day, and you’re a supportive character. And maybe, some days, you’ve a lead role. I don’t know how the plot might twist and surprise us as we go, but there’s always hope for a happy ending.