Ending the stigma of Mental Health was the focus of the Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Night May 30 at the Happy Gang Club in Carlyle.
A group of concerned citizens, including counsellors, RCMP and EMS members joined Donna Bowyer, Director, Friends for Life, of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Bowyer shared how grief, loss, anxiety and depression can seriously disrupt the lives of 1 in 3 people during their lifetime. While this number appears to be increasing, it could be simply due to the higher level of awareness of these mental health issues. Bowyer shared that even a good change is a loss, using the example of buying a new home. While a new home is exciting it means leaving the old home behind, along with all of its memories, and that in itself is a loss. She explained the construction of a loss line, beginning with your first memories and continuing until the present. In it you include all the changes that have shaped your life, and then you examine each change. If you find yourself getting emotional about the change, it signifies that you may not have resolved the loss. Add on a few other losses that are unresolved and you may discover that you have made choices in your life based on fear and the need to be in control.
Statistics say that Anxiety Disorders are the most common of all mental health problems, affecting 1 in 10 people, more women than men, and affecting children as well. Treatment brings the level of anxiety down in order to work on it but is not a cure. It is treatable though. She explained anxiety disorders can include panic disorder; phobias; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder; Agoraphobia and general Anxiety Disorder.
Depression occurs in the same part of the brain as dementia and in fact, out of 10 people who see a professional for dementia related symptoms, 9 of those will be suffering from depression. Depression looks different in women than in men. Women pull in on themselves while men tend to push people away, often working on a project where they will work alone. She shared some saddening facts about suicides, including the rise in numbers of young people. Children do not realize the finality of death until the age of 10-15 but understand suicide at the age of 8. Some of this is due to the words used to describe death to children, such as passed away, in a better place, or just gone. Also mentioned was cartoons such as Wily Coyote and of course video games, where the avatar dies and then comes back to life to compete again.
She spoke of the stigma of mental illness and how it translates into the prejudice that people are dangerous, unpredictable, selfish, weak, lazy or suicidal, to name just a few.
Throughout the presentation, the need to be well informed as to the signs of mental illness was obvious, but more so, the need to recognize that mental illness is just as much an illness as diabetes or cancer and that the sooner we, as a community, recognize it, the sooner it will be treated.