Concerned that your low mood may be more than a temporary blues? Anxiety keeping you from sleeping? Certain you’re the Second Coming?
Heads up: Mental Illness Awareness Week kicks off Sept. 30 and runs until Oct. 6. The purpose of this national awareness week is three-fold: the goals being public education, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness and showing sufferers how they can find the help they need.
In the Sea to Sky that help comes in the form of the Mental Health and Addictions Services division of Vancouver Coastal Health. They’ll be out at the end of the month staffing information booths in both Whistler’s and Pemberton’s libraries. They’ll be there to steer you in the right direction, inform you of the free services they offer and discuss possible care options. Did I mention these folks are very good at what they do? They are kind and compassionate and really helped me.
Although I’ve written about having a mood disorder in the past, I’m upping my level of disclosure in this column. Why? Because last week in these pages I read a description of the work of the Kelty Dennehy Foundation, which defined one of their mandates as reducing stigma around mental illness.
Kelty Dennehy was a young Whistler resident who lost his battle with depression in 2002. His parents have continued their son’s fight through his namesake foundation that’s raised more than $4.1 million towards the prevention of depression-related suicide in young people.
Whether young or old, suicide is a very real possibility for people suffering from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder — three of the most prevalent mental illnesses. Some of these illnesses have a mortality rate of 20 per cent. That translates into one in five sufferers choosing to end their lives.
Even without this tragic consequence, untreated mood disorders can greatly impair someone’s life — having negative consequences not only for the sufferer, but his or her family, friends and co-workers. A lot of the problems arise from the skewed perceptions that seem to be part and parcel of mood disorders. Throw in a tendency to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and life with mental illness can get very difficult.
Since I was a teenager I have suffered from depression — depression that was countered by periods of wildly-creative enthusiasm that would degenerate into irritable, irrational anger. It was almost 25 years before I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. It took another eight years, several medication changes and a brief hospitalization for me to accept that I had to take control of this illness or it would control me. For the most part, taking control means I must be committed to living a healthy life by getting enough sleep, being compliant with my medication and being honest — with myself and others — about my emotional state.
In some ways, having bipolar disorder is a lot like being diabetic. It, like other mood disorders, is something that can be managed with medication, monitoring and maintenance. However, I’ve never seen the perpetrator of a violent crime being described as “possibly diabetic.” And therein lies the problem: the stigma.
The more that those of us who aren’t violent criminals or train-wreck pop stars talk about what it’s like to live with a mood disorder, the more the stigma will erode and the more likely people will be to get treatment — the same way they would for any physical, non-stigmatized illness.
Life gets much easier when you move forward from mental illness to mental health. It begins with accessing the resources around you. It worked for me. It can work for you.