Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Struggling from Within: The Need for a Better Mental-Health Strategy in Canada

           The last few weeks have been a 'trying' time for me due to various reasons. I began thinking more deeply on this ‘trying time’ because of a video I was sent last week – a video of me in relation to being an Indspire Educational Award Recipient for 2010/2011 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7tv6WUb1bo ). In the video I highlight my wants and desires with my education; I also highlight the personal and internal items that have consistently been a battle for me. This ‘battle’ I refer to is something that 20 per cent of Canadians deal with at sometime in their life. Additionally, 8 per cent of Canadians will experience a major episode relating to this ‘battle’ sometime in their life – but for some of us, it lasts for many years.
            The ‘battle’ I highlight is Depression, and to some extent Anxiety alongside of it. That is right – I deal with Depression and Anxiety, something I have been burdened with since as early as the age of 13. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this internal battle and the toll it was having on my well-being - if it were not for my sister during those early years of suffering from it, I do not know what the end result would have been for me. Additionally, I have struggled with how to share my story on this topic due to the stigma that exists towards mental health - making this blog entry a three years in the making kind of thing.
My depression continues to take its toll in certain ways: from doubt, to worry, to general people who claim understanding but truly do not grasp what depression does (those of you who also suffer from this issue will know what I talk about). It has taken me 16 years, more then half of my existence, to come to the point where I can write this out and make it public knowledge – I do it today in hopes of bringing understanding to people about what those of us who go through it deal with on a daily basis 
            Some have a hard time grasping that for those of us suffering from depression simply ‘cannot just snap out of it,” “just get over it,” or, on many occasions, tell ourselves “it will get better.” For some, and I specifically talk about myself here – confiding in people we trust or coming to for reassurance is of utmost importance. Shrugging your shoulders and telling us to stay positive and optimistic does not fix the issue. Nor does it instill faith in us towards those of you who do this – instead it leads to a complete lock down of trying to bring forth understanding with you - the trust has been broken.
            It is due to the stigma and complete lack of understanding that many choose to hide it, in fear of being judged, hurt, and out of concern of people not comprehending its overarching effects it has on our day-to-day lives. But, it is the reminder that I tell ‘my story’ in the Indspire video that I now share my story. As I grew older and consistently dealt with my depression it became clear I was losing the battle. The battle cost me my 'original' final year of my undergrad in 2008; it has cost me friendships as well as time with family. For me, I knew when my bouts of depression would set in and I knew there were ways to get me out of them. One such item was keeping myself consistently busy and involved in projects and volunteering – which I did not realize helped until my late teen years. However, eventually I could no longer ‘lift myself up’ and out of the times I would sink into darkness. The worst situation came when it set in during January of 2008 and never went away until that following October.
            Many did not know how much it was affecting me at this time – that on most days I couldn’t move from my couch, bed, or I simply disappeared into a Simulation world on my computer. I left that year from School feeling defeated and never thought I could go back – it was the persistence of my soon-to-be M.A advisor, Dr. Kiera Ladner, that eventually, after about 4-5 months of convincing, that I should return to school and increase my GPA and set my sights back on my goals of achieving an M.A and Ph.D. It was difficult to agree to go back – there were many anxiety attacks that accompanied my consistent battle with returning to school. Upon my realization that I would indeed go back to school I made myself a promise: If I sank into the darkness of depression again I would finally seek professional help. This is exactly what I did in February of 2010 when another strong battle commenced. The decision to do so has assisted in allowing me to increase my undergrad GPA, obtain my M.A, and now be working towards obtaining my PhD. During this time I am thankful for the support network I had – those who understood and took the time to realize that ‘I can’t just get over it.’  The key words: They took the time to understand; if only more would do this.
            As highlighted above, the amount of people who it is believed suffer from depression in Canada is 20 per cent. On many occasions, this links to the rate of suicides being 24 per cent for 15-24 year olds and 16 per cent among 25-44 year olds. The rates are far higher for young people who are LGBT/Two Spirited as well as for Indigenous youth. Almost half (49 per cent) of those who suffer with depression do not seek help because of the stigma attached to depression, stigma such as “they just are feeling sorry for themselves,” “trying to get attention for themselves,” and so on. Stats also show that costs to Canada’s healthcare are estimated to be over $8 billion (with the costs being between care and disability/early death). The costs could be lowered with proper legislation and policy, deaths that could be prevented with proper education to Canadians, and simple understanding from society. This doesn’t even include the personal costs that exist for people who need psychological help and the purchasing of medication to assist.
            I am happy to see, especially over the last few years, the push for discussion and proper recognition of the issue of depression and other mind-related ailments that affect people of all walks of life, creed, ethnicity, and region. This has been especially dominant in the Young Liberals of Canada, with noticeable discussion in the Ontario Young Liberals. Yet, the policy seems to never make it to the biennial conventions. Perhaps it also relates to the stigma that exists towards it? I truly do not know. What I do know is that although people acknowledge its existence, many continue to lack proper understanding of how to best handle and support those of us who are going through our bout of depression.
            It is indeed true that there are many who have come into my life, some who are still there now, who simply never understood, despite my consistent reminder to them that depression, and the negative effects that it causes, are still an issue for me. Thus, as I have pointed out to these people: Telling me I am over-reacting, laughing at me and telling me I am making a big deal about something, telling me to get over it, and expressing I am looking for a fight or attention – DOES NOT equal support, understanding, or help in my dealings with my internal battles.
            For me, items that may be a breeze to others, may be an extremely difficult process for me when it comes to self-related understandings and feelings. Despite this, the medication I take to assist in subsiding the majority of the effects from my depression help me to keep moving forward and to keep reaching for my goals. However, it does not completely numb the blows from people who lack proper understanding of this issue we call depression. I hope that in Canada, federal and provincial governments take this issue seriously and have meaningful and proper discussion on the issues relating to mental health.  We do not ask for special consideration or special status, or to be considered feeble and week – All that seems to be consistently asked for is proper understanding from those in our day-to-day lives; those on our ‘teams’ and for the proper supports need to seek help without judgment.
            I share my story, as I did in the Indspire video, because those of us who deal with it can overcome it and get through the cycles that may come with it.  I also share my story to say thank you to those who have stood by me and who have supported me when my bouts with my depression have been at their worst. I especially thank my sister for being that person through my teens and early 20s, when it was at its worse; for always bring me back to 'reality' and preventing me from 'ending it all.' I was fortunate I had her at the time that medication was not yet something I could turn to. I was fortunate to have her support and understanding.
We can get the help needed in order to succeed in life. We can overcome and climb ‘those steps to our dreams.’ But understanding from others is key and can go a long way to assist with overcoming our additional obstacles and achieving that success.


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