To the editor:
Re; Letter to the editor of the Capital News dated Nov. 4, 2011 from Shelagh Turner.
I agree with Shelagh Turner, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Kelowna branch, in voicing her concern about a lack of coverage in the media in regards to battling the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.
I have a teenage daughter that has recently been suffering with a mental illness that induces a high level of anxiety associated with deep depression.
My experience with any loved ones or friends ones dealing with a similar situation was nonexistent and my knowledge on how to deal with it was the same.
I am sure many of your readers are in a similar situation. After much research and discussions with mental health professionals I was amazed to find out how prolific this problem is and how many people have to deal with it at some point in their lives. I learned how important it is to recognize early symptoms so it can be treated. Mental illness, like most other illnesses, benefit greatly from being recognized and being treated earlier in the illness rather than later.
I also found out that once I did bring up the issue of mental health just how it has affected so many families but was not discussed a lot—stigma.
The support system I have dealt with here in Kelowna has been excellent, from the doctors and councillors in the area of mental health to the school system and the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Some of these people have gone far above and beyond the call of duty in helping out our daughter. They truly care and it shows in their efforts.
What we have found the most frustrating to deal with at the outset is having to explain and hopefully overcome the stigma of dealing with mental health issues with our families and friends. I certainly do not blame them as I would be in the same position and mindset, coupled with a lack of knowledge, if I was not dealing with the issue myself.
There is no doubt that education for the public is the key and that will only happen when the media and school system show a commitment to assist in providing it. I understand the Province of Ontario is now looking at a program for their school system that will provide a mandatory course on mental health issues for their students as a lot of mental health issues can begin during the adolescent years. I applaud this and believe that this should be mandatory in all schools. When a person is dealing with a mental health issue support from family and friends is crucial and can greatly assist in recovery and yes—100 per cent recovery is very possible and is the goal of the mental health care professionals.
I frequently see support through the various media outlets for children that are suffering from various illnesses that involve fundraising or showing support by shaving their hair for cancer victims as an example and find it heart warming and certainly a selfless show of caring and supportiveness from their friends and family.
With mental illness, a simple phone call or an e-mail or text, just to let a person know that they are being thought of and that you still care is hugely beneficial. Maybe even take the time to go out and see a movie with them or spend a couple hours shopping with them.
My biggest heartbreak was watching my daughter’s reaction when her friends drifted away. She felt very lonely and abandoned. It is not her friends’ fault. They do not know how to deal with it. It is our fault as a society for not teaching them how to.
And to parents of children who might know someone that is dealing with a mental health issue—a child who may not be coming around your home much anymore or who maybe is not attending school because they are too anxious to show up, I would like to suggest that you discuss the situation with your child and see if they would like to help to assist their friend in recovery. Call the parents if you have any concerns. They will appreciate it.
A situation with lots of people present is not a good idea with someone dealing with any anxiety issues. A one-on-one outing or meeting is preferable.
And lastly, a child dealing with a mental illness like depression or anxiety is not anymore likely to be involved with any confrontational issue than someone without an illness. In fact, the opposite is true. Education programs by our school system and coverage by the media is critical in teaching the public about mental health issues and assisting the families and children suffering from this illness from removing the stigma attached to it and is extremely beneficial in elevating the road to recovery.
PS: I would like to withhold my name as to not put my daughter’s name out to her peers at school.