Sunday, February 10, 2013

Please Talk about Mental Illness - Do it for our Children.

I admire this young man for his courage to tell his story, his strength to forge ahead, his honesty, and vulnerability. Not all children make it. I have had to listen to the heartbreaking news of a 21 year old, a 16 year old and a 12 year old who were part of my circle of family and friends who decided to take their own lives. That's three too many in one life time. I have also experienced the profound and humble gratitude of knowing I also prevented two teens from choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and all I had to do was listen, tell them I cared, and things will get better.

Sadly, YouTube is riddled with videos like Jonah's with children bravely revealing their "secrets" to an audience of strangers in hopes that they can affect change, in the hopes that they will be heard. Unfortunately, 1.2 million Ontario youth suffer from mental illness, and only one out of six will receive the help they need, because they are too afraid to reveal their secrets to a world that stigmatizes mental illness, so they suffer alone. According to Merriam Webster's Dictionary, stigma is defined as "a mark of shame or discredit", and we impose that shame on our children.

What society often forgets is mental illness is a potentially fatal illness with more than 800,000 suicides world wide each year, almost three times the lives lost in armed combat. Some statistics say as much as 90% of those suicides are the result of mental illness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death of children ages 10-19, the leading cause of death being car accidents.

In Canada last year, 300 children took their own lives because they felt so hopeless, so alone, because they were afraid to share their "secrets". These children are depending on us, their guardians, their protectors, to create a world where they feel safe being who they are, a world where they don't have to feel ashamed of something over which they have no control. As Alicia Raimundo so aptly put it in her TEDTalks video taped in Waterloo,   the children who speak up about their illness are "superheroes",  defenders of life, decency and compassion. They need us to be superheroes too, and they need us to do it now, because 300 lives is 300 too many.

What will you do to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness? If you suffer from mental illness, I know what courage it takes to open about it, but by being open, you are not only paving the way for our children, but you might also be helping someone else better understand a loved one who suffers from mental illness, and all you need to do is listen.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, it is unfortunate that people with mental illnesses still are being stigmatized. Last semester I took a class in Addictive Disorders Study in an attempt to better deal with and search for answers after losing my brother to alcoholism. The class was Dual Diagnosis and the connection between people struggling with addictions that so suffered from a mental illness of some fashion was astonishing to me. Since I suffer from clinical depression, which wasn't diagnosed until recently, I began to talk more openly about my depression with family members. That is when I covered that there has been a family history of mental issues- breakdowns , illnesses, hospitalization, etc. for many family members that I never knew about or that was discussed. As I stated earlier, I wasn't diagnosed until recently that allowed me to find a medicine program that is helping. If only I had known this information, even SOME of this information, in my late teenager-early adulthood years, it would have saved me a lot of grief, sadness, bewilderment wondering what was wrong with me. Now that I am a mother of a teenager, who has even experimented with self harm by 'cutting, I am doing everything that I can to maintain open communication with my daughter. I am informing her about the family history. I honestly think that this knowledge has helped tremendously.



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