Tag Archives: stigma

rethinking mental health

the robert wood johnson foundation has joined forces with ashoka’s changemakers to launch “rethinking mental health: improving community wellbeing”, a competition for new ideas and practices that challenge the status quo in terms of how we think about and address mental health care needs.

the foundation invites you to join this important conversation and put forward your ideas on how individuals, families, and communities can move past narrow perceptions of mental health and expand their involvement in finding solutions. 10 ideas will be selected by a panel of expert judges and put forward for a community vote. the three ideas with the most votes will each receive a cash prize of $5,000.

you can join the effort by:

1.      visiting the website and commenting on entries from others like you who are deeply concerned about this very important issue and want to get involved;
2.      entering the competition and sharing your ideas for improving mental health with the world;
3.      helping spread the word about the competition through blogging or social media;
4.      nominate an inspired idea or project.

entries and comments can be submitted until october 14th.  a panel of judges will then select 10 ideas that the changemakers community will vote on to select the top three. the changemakers collaborative competition winners – the three finalists that receive the most votes – will be announced on december 16, 2009 and will each receive a cash prize of usd $5,000. as important as the three winners, however, is the dialogue that occurs about mental health and that as many great minds as possible come to the table with fresh thinking and new solutions.

(the information on this was passed on to me by my blogging friend alison bergblum-johnson, who helps people write about mental health)

MentalHealthCamp – the power of social media

here are my opening notes to MentalHealthCamp yesterday; they followed raul’s great introduction to the workings of social media.  we decided that he would be the social media guy and i’d be the mental health gal.  (how well raul and i worked together deserves a whole post by itself).

i managed to present most of what’s in the notes; the rest of it got substituted by slightly teary-eyed stumbled-over words about suicide.

here we go:

· 20% of canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. that’s about 3 times the people that live in greater vancouver.
· in the US, it is estimated that every hour, three people take their own lives.
· almost 50% of those who suffer from depression or anxiety never see a health professional. for bc alone, that’s equivalent to the population of all of burnaby, all suffering in silence
· the economic cost of mental illnesses in canada is $15 billion. that is $1 more than the british columbia government is planning on spending on 88,000 jobs to stimulate the economy
· the british columbia government just cut psychiatric and mental health beds and mental health treatment programs. staff in the adult mental health division will be cut by 70 percent and the mental health advocate position was eliminated.

okay, enough of this statistical gloominess. most of us know it already anyway. we can lament it – or we can do something about it.

one of the reasons why i love cyberspace and have been fascinated with it for almost 25 years now is that it transcends. it transcends geographical boundaries, that we all know. but it transcends way more boundaries than that.

the internet is the nervous system of this planet, says the hippy internet manifesto. if that’s the case, then of course it transcends everything because it is everything. there’s no places the nervous system won’t go.

consequently, there are no places we here won’t go because we are the internet. raul and sandra and terra everyone here, we are the internet. it’s quite heady when you think of it. you know how they always say, we are the nation? well, in cyberspace that’s true in a strangely real way.

so – if we are the internet, and if we are the people who transcend, what does that mean for mental health and mental illness?

it means that the stigma that traditionally comes with mental illness does not need to be a scarlet letter anymore; we can declare this stigma a mistake that arose out of misunderstanding, and we’re amply equipped to fix it.

it means you, and most importantly i, can get the message out that depression and anxiety can often be cured, and can always be managed.

why do i say, “most importantly, i”? it’s not because i am a terribly important person in the internet but it’s because of what a famous rabbi said hundreds of years ago, “if not i, who?” i’m the most important person because i need to take responsibility.

we are all taking responsibility today. we’re ready to deal with the mistake of stigma.

we’re ready to say out loud that it’s crazy – yes, crazy – that six million canadians feel afraid of discussing an illness that’s even more common than asthma. yes, as many canadians are dealing with lung disease as are with mental illness. it’s totally ok for your daughter to bring her inhaler to school. but when your 11-year-old son wants to bring his teddy bear when anxiety hits him, people laugh.

that’s not okay!

i brought my stuffy, by the way. her name is sarah. everyone, meet sarah (that’s her in the picture above). when i feel confused or panicked in the middle of the night. i hug her.

okay … what else are we responsible for? we are, clearly, not responsible for people taking their own lives. this tragic decision is very personal and is always, always, the sole decision of the person in question.

however, most people who take their own lives are unimaginably lonely. we can bring community to people. we can be available. we can be inclusive. that’s the power of social media.

as for the ridiculous lack of financial support for people with mental illness, that’s – well, ridiculous.

the internet gives us power to speak. we can talk to the government, we can lobby – we have the power to do that. i’m not saying it’s easy, but we do have power. the rise of obama showed how the internet changed election coverage and therefore influenced election outcomes. we have this power in our hands. we can lobby and influence.

but there’s another side to it, too, and that brings me back to this conference. there’s a sense in which we don’t need the government.

remember, we are the central nervous system.

when we feel so inclined, let’s go lobby the government.

but that’s not what we’re doing right now.

i believe that what we’re doing right here is more powerful than trying to change the mind of a slow-moving government.

it took us two months, pretty much to the day, to dream up this conference and to bring you here, to this event that i’d like to humbly submit is groundbreaking, definitely the first of its kind. we didn’t need a government, we didn’t need money, we just said let’s do it and here we are.

that is the power of social media. let’s use it.

mental health camp: speaker list, diagnosis, and the history of stigma

for today, i’ll simply send you over to the MentalHealthCamp site.

we have a list of presentations now – really interesting stuff – topics reach from anonymity and pseudonymity to ADD to online therapy to stigma and self stigma – please check it out! the title of my presentation will be “blogging yourself home” – on blogging, writing, creativity and mental health.

there are also two very interesting guest posts.  one is on diagnosis, stigma, loneliness – and hope.

the other is entitled mental illness and stigma in history by ian from graveyard contemplations.

MentalHealthCamp – a whole conference about mental health and blogging

northern voice 2009 logo by bascocoping digitally, a session at the 2009 northern voice blogging conference that talked about the intersection of blogging and mental health and how social media can help derease the stigma of mental health was a real success.  raul did a live blog of the session. thanks, raul!

the overwhelming feedback, during and after the session, face-to-face and digitally, was that the conversation needs to be continued.

so – we are thinking of putting together MentalHealthCamp, an (un)conference that will deal specifically with the topic.  raul (@hummingbird604 on twitter) already did a post on it!

right now the idea is to put together such a conference in vancouver some time in april, with sessions that are at least 90 minutes – these are topics that we can’t just plow through, there needs to be time for reflection and conversation.  we could run concurrent sessions if we have a lot of proposals.

in the meantime, feel free to continue the discussion digitally here on my blog. i’m thinking about writing specific blog posts about the issues that have arisen so far.  anything you’re burning to talk about, let me know!

and once again, here are airdrie’s blog and tod’s, the two other people on the panel.  a huge thanks to airdrie once again for getting this ball rolling so well!

questions to you, my good readers and commenters:

would you be interested in participating in MentalHealthCamp?

“participating” means anything from attending the conference to volunteering to put it together to giving presentations.

right now my thought is that we might even be able to do a mixed online/face-to-face session where people who cannot make it to vancouver could perhaps participate via a combination of live-blogging and twitter.

UPDATE: here is the wiki for MentalHealthCamp – for those of you who want to participate.

(the northern voice logo shown here was created by “teh ossum” street artist basco)

february buddhist carnival – on mental health (part 2)

this is part 2 of this month’s buddhist carnival. part 1 is here.

the wild mind and the wise body

i like this article by the wild moods that takes the actual here-and-now feelings and sensations of mental illness and uses them to get in touch with mental health

… take a second to think about how the wild moods sign themselves on your body. glurky stomach? acid stomach? headache? flushing heat in the chest? but it may actually take some concentrated focusing to see what the body is doing when depressed or anxious, because we can get so used to experiencing these signatures as depression and anxiety that we are not really aware of them as distinct and repeating physical sensations.

so why is this important, to become aware of these sensations? because when we are able to be aware of the sensations as physical events, then there is the opportunity to break the cycling whirlpool of mood, where negative thought causes unpleasant sensation, which generates another negative thought, reinforcing another negative sensation, and around and around, deeper and deeper.

the empty bowl

joanna poppink is a counsellor who helps people with eating disorders. she offers the buddhist ritual of the empty bowl as an active meditation tool, inspired by a thanksgiving post about how people struggling with eating disorders might get as well as give benefits by helping to provide food for hungry people. joanna poppink suggests entertaining an “unseen guest with an empty bowl” as if they were sitting at your table with you.

the idea is to make an extra place setting with an empty bowl at your eating place. before you eat, look at the empty bowl. pray or meditate or think about or send kind thoughts to people who face this empty bowl every day.

put money, as you can, small even tiny amounts are okay, in the empty bowl in appreciation for what food you have available today.

i propose that this is useful for anyone, with any problem. for example, when i went through my last fear-of-flying adventure (something yet to blog about), what helped me the most was imagining that i was connected to other people who were in pain as well, and imagining sharing with them whatever small goodness came my way (e.g. a drink of water, putting on warm socks). this is, by the way, also a 12-step principle. the suggestion there is that one of the best ways of dealing with the affliction of addiction is to help others with the same problem.

speaking of which …

buddhism and addiction

darren’s blog is about the intersection of buddhism and the 12 steps. here he talks about attachment and realization:

for us [addicts], teachings on attachment are a no brainer. tell us we’re attached to our betting, babes, booze or benzos and we’ll give you an eyebrow raise and an, “and your point is?”

… this process, looking at the condition of our minds, returning to the present moment, noticing our attachment, is kind of like digestion. the teacher echoed my thoughts in saying that zen practice is like adding the right enzymes. as we engage in observing, not reacting and being present to our lives, we become more familiar with what we really are underneath all the concepts, grasping, attachment and addiction. we take a bite of zen, digest samsara and shit out realization. clean like a whistle.

more addiction: hoarding

one city has a lovely entry on extending good wishes to a neighbour whose life is burdened by hoarding, an addiction perhaps, or an obsessive-compulsive behaviour (i tend to see a lot of connections between the two)

the real fruits of my internet search for information about compulsive hoarding turned into an extension of my meditation practice in cultivating compassion for someone i don’t even really know. i can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live as a hoarder, but i can imagine the suffering and the courage that it takes to start the real, hard work on improving your life; sorting through things, throwing things away, decided what is worth keeping, how do you start over? and having to think about all the things that led up to the hoarding that could have been a trigger or a lingering cause. i think it really does take courage.

i would like to close this blog post by sending along some metta (e-metta?) to my neighbour across the way.

may she be healthy, may she have happiness.


finally, a post on stigma. echo pen touches on an aspect of stigma that, i believe, is not talked about enough – self stigma. i believe that one of the best ways to deal with mental health stigma in the world “out there” is to strengthen our own feelings towards our mental health. if i believe that i am deficient, it will usually come through in my communication with others. when i believe in my own strength and worthiness, i can deal with societal stigma from a place of strength.

recently, while meditating, irrational thoughts and memories of the stigmas issues i’ve dealt with [came up]. i have experientially recognized them as irrational self judging and self defeating. when these thoughts come during zazen… i explore them including feelings of apprehension, worry, guilt, resentment…the bodily feelings of anxiety… all in the context of the here and now..become aware of them accept them and then i let them go, and continue sitting with clarity and peace.

that’s it for this month’s buddhist carnival.  if you have any submissions for next month’s carnival (march 15, 2009), please send them to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.

on being a (cracked?) teapot

time for some fun.

here are some jokes about people who are crazy.


“what a hypocrite this isabella is, talking about getting rid of the stigma of mental illness and then she makes jokes about people in ‘mental hospitals’, and calls them crazy? that word in itself shows her true colours!”

yes, you could say that. you could also hear that i’m one of those crazy people.

or … and …

… you could see not only the funny in these stories but also the wisdom of the crazy and the absurd …

theatre of the absurd

a man is strolling past the mental hospital and suddenly remembers an important meeting. unfortunately, his watch has stopped, and he cannot tell if he is late or not. then, he notices a patient similarly strolling about within the hospital fence. calling out to the patient, the man says,

“pardon me, sir, but do you have the time?” the patient calls back, “one moment!” and throws himself upon the ground, pulling out a short stick as he does. he pushes the stick into the ground, and, pulling out a carpenter’s level, assures himself that the stick is vertical. with a compass, the patient locates north and with a steel ruler, measures the precise length of the shadow cast by the stick. withdrawing a slide rule from his pocket, the patient calculates rapidly, then swiftly packs up all his tools and turns back to the pedestrian, saying, “it is now precisely 2:37 pm, provided today is may the twenty-second, which i believe it is.”

the man can’t help but be impressed by this demonstration, and sets his watch accordingly. before he leaves, he says to the patient, “that was really quite remarkable, but tell me, what do you do on a cloudy day, or at night, when the stick casts no shadow?” the patient holds up his wrist and says, “i suppose i’d just look at my watch.”

dr. leroy, the head psychiatrist at the local mental hospital, is examining patients to see if they’re cured and ready to re-enter society.

“so, mr. clark,” the doctor says to one of his patients, “i see by your chart that you’ve been recommended for dismissal. do you have any idea what you might do once you’re released?”

the patient thinks for a moment, then replies, “well, i went to school for mechanical engineering. that’s still a good field, good money there. but on the other hand, i thought i might write a book about my experience here in the hospital, what it’s like to be a patient here. people might be interested in reading a book like that. in addition, i thought i might go back to college and study art history, which i’ve grown interested in lately.”

dr. leroy nods and says, “yes, those all sound like intriguing possibilities.”

the patient replies, “and the best part is, in my spare time, i can go on being a teapot.”

a psychologist is evaluating three new patients at a mental hospital.

he asks the first one, “how much is two times two?” and the man replies, “five thousand!”

without comment, he moves on to the next one and again asks, “how much is two times two?” the patient replies, “that would be friday!”

“how much is two times two?” he asked the third. “four!” he replies. “excellent,” the encouraged medic says, “can you tell me how you arrived at that figure?”

“simple,” he explained. “i just divided 5000 by friday!”

(image by perreira, who has the first catalan blog i’ve ever encountered) 

mental illness and violence

most people have little reason to fear violence from people with mental illness, even in its most severe forms.

historically, in the 1950s, mental illness carried great social stigma, especially linked with fear of unpredictable and violent behaviour. while there is greater public understanding of mental illness nowadays, paradoxically, the perception of people with psychosis as being dangerous is stronger today than in the past.

so why is fear of violence so entrenched? most speculations focus on media coverage and deinstitutionalization. one series of surveys found that selective media reporting reinforced the public’s stereotypes linking violence and mental illness and encouraged people to distance themselves from those with mental disorders. fortunately, negative perceptions about severe mental illness can be lowered by furnishing empirically based information on the association between violence and severe mental illness.

indeed, people with a mental illness are 2.5 more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society. this tends to happen when poverty, a transient lifestyle or substance use are present. any of these factors make a person with mental illness more vulnerable to assault and the possibility of becoming violent in response.

however, mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes. alcohol and substance abuse far outweigh mental illness in contributing to violence. a 1996 health canada review found that the strongest predictor of violence and criminal behaviour is not major mental illness, but past history of violence and criminality.

on rare occasions, people with mental illness who feel threatened and/or whose symptoms override personal control can behave violently. this can happen with command hallucinations or feeling that one’s mind is being dominated by outside forces. such symptoms and behaviour tend to occur more often when the person is off their medication.

living in a stressful, unpredictable environment with little family or community support can also contribute to occasional violent behaviour by individuals suffering from psychosis or neurological impairment.

patterns of violence are similar regardless of a person’s mental health status. for example, people with a mental illness are no more likely than anyone else to harm strangers. violent behaviour by anyone is generally aimed at family and friends, rather than strangers, and it typically happens in the home, not in public.

most of this violence is committed by men and directed to women. the risk for family violence is, among others, also related to low socioeconomic status, social stress, social isolation, poor self esteem and personality problems.

the major predictors of violence, regardless of mental health status, are being young, male, of lower socio-economic status, and abusing alcohol or drugs. substance disorders are major contributors to community violence, perhaps accounting for as much as a third of self-reported violent acts, and seven out of every 10 crimes of violence among mentally disordered offenders.

too much past research has focussed on the person with the mental illness, rather than the nature of the social interchange that led up to the violence. therefore, we do not know enough about the nature of these relationships and the context of violence, and much less than we should about opportunities for primary prevention.

here in canada, a senate committee has released a report on mental health, mental illness and addiction. while it was generally applauded, there was considerable concern that the report is “gender blind” and silent on the issue of violence against girls and women, which has a significant and well-documented impact on long-term physical and mental health.

(this article draws from the following sources: canadian mental health association, world psychiatry, canadian women’s health network, mental health: a report of the surgeon general)

(this post made the list of the surfers paradise hullabaloo)