COLUMN: Lori Q. McGavin — April 11, 2014

Lori Q.
Lori Q. McGavin
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During the last week I came across this headline in the news, “Fort Hood Shooting: Psychiatric issues ‘fundamental underlying causal factor.’”

Psychiatric issues: Fundamental underlying causal factor.

Are we to assume that those with psychiatric illnesses- also known as mental illnesses- are more likely to commit violent crimes? Are we vulnerable to those who struggle with mental illnesses?

Of course not!

A headline like that doesn’t address other underlying issues. What about the lack of help this individual may have received? What about his lack of education about his condition and the lack of education by his support system? What about the lack of health supports provided for him? What about other factors that were present leading up to this event?

All too often, headlines and media coverage links mental illnesses with violent shootings, murders, attempted murders, murder-suicides, etc. That has the potential to spread fear, to perpetuate society’s perception about what people with mental illnesses are capable or incapable of, and further stigmatizes and oppresses those who have mental illnesses.

That stigma prevents people from seeking help; it prevents them from accessing support and treatment; and it prevents safe environments from being established for those who require help with their illnesses.

Do you know what else perpetuates the stigma?

Our lack of understanding and knowledge about mental illnesses.

According to Health Canada, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining four will have a friend, family member or colleague who will.

Mental illnesses can include anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more that you might not be aware of.

My life has been touched by mental illness in different ways. People who are very dear to me have been affected and I understand the difficulty that is faced in seeking help. In the past, my lack of knowledge about mental illnesses created a bumpy road filled with fear and ignorance.

I have learned that by talking about it, people have begun to feel comfortable saying they have also been affected. There is no shame in talking about mental illnesses or seeking help. Unfortunately, many people who are affected don’t feel safe talking about it or seeking help.

There are safe, supportive environments for people with other illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, etc. There is no blame or negative judgements placed on those with other illnesses and being able to seek treatment. Those with mental illnesses deserve a safe, supportive environment as well. 

There is nothing wrong in seeking help for mental illnesses. Mental illnesses can be treated.

What is wrong is assuming that people with mental illnesses are more likely to commit violent offences.  The numbers prove otherwise - that most crimes are not committed by people with mental illnesses.

In reality, according to CMHA, people with mental illnesses are two and a half to four times more likely to be the victims of violence than any other group in our society.

It is our responsibility to learn about mental illnesses because it affects us all directly or indirectly. 

We can attack the stigma by learning more.

Teach your children about it, talk about it with family members and friends. Chances are they will be affected by it.

Knowledge about mental illnesses may help us to establish an environment of understanding and encouragement. Gaining a deeper understanding and sharing this knowledge between family members and friends might help to make our communities and our homes a trusting environment where everyone feels safe to talk about it and to reach out for help.

We are all human and at some stages of our lives we all need help to overcome, to heal, to progress, to succeed. If someone you love was affected by a mental illness wouldn’t you hope that there were welcoming, open doors leading to treatment, support and mental health?

Mental Health Week is May 5-11.  Mental Health Week raises awareness of mental illnesses and offers ways to improve your mental health.

A great place to begin your knowledge quest about Mental Health is the Canadian Mental Health Association website www.cmha.ca

Prince Albert local CMHA branch

1322 Central Avenue Prince Albert, SK S6V 4W3

P (306) 763-7747

 

Lori Q. McGavin is a Saskatoon freelance writer. Her column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Sharon Thomas and Kevin Joseph.

 

Organizations: Canadian Mental Health Association, Health Canada, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Saskatoon

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