No Stigma

By Keith Anderson

My first time going public with my journey with depression was an article I had written – “How I Returned to a Life Worth Living”- for the National Post newspaper here in Canada. That was February 20, 1998. Since then I have written articles for several Bar Associations (I’m a lawyer) and spoken before many groups, from universities to corporate audiences. I even spoke at a local bar (the drinking kind) a few months ago. I was the “opening act”!

Bring Chance 2 Mind has been a true force in bringing a level of understanding and acceptance of mental health issues. In Canada, there has been an equally effective force in the Bell Let’s Talk Campaign. From national campaigns to local events, people have advocated from many perches.

I sit here today wondering if our voices, individually and collectively, have been heard. Are we connecting?

Two recent events have provided me with the opportunity to reflect.

I have participated in a mental health training program for the local police service for the last five years.

I remember the first time speaking to a dozen officers, a few of whom I knew. I spoke for an hour and expected lots of discussion to be generated on the subject given the small group and the informal circumstances. Alas, no questions and very few comments.  The silence was deafening.

Now, lets turn to a few weeks ago.  I spoke to a group of 45 police officers and firefighters. I was scheduled for 30-40 minutes.

After I finished, there were 7 officers with questions and comments. We had a very forthright discussion. Questions covered topics such as ‘how to recognize symptoms of mental illness’ and ‘how to approach someone who may need help’.

The officers wanted to be part of the discussion. One acknowledged his own struggles with PTSD. They recognized the need to understand and address mental health concerns in their workplace and at home. The unscheduled Q & A lasted about a half hour. I was proud of their willingness to have such an open discussion.

I felt a sense of accomplishment, not just for myself, but for everyone who has been advocating for so many years and also for the officers. We are making a difference! A change is underway.

The second event is on a more personal level. I consider myself to be happy and healthy. Through the last 15 years I have witnessed a lot, but I am still amazed at how some people treat me. I mentioned in my last blog that I had met someone special.

It was a random meeting a few months ago. I felt like I was sixteen again, not sure what to say or how to behave. I hadn’t spoken to many women since 2003.

I had no difficulty mentioning my journey with depression. It is part of my life, past and current. She readily understood. We discussed it at length, not only in terms of my having been ill, but also how it has changed how I approach living.

My depression certainly continues to be discussed, but it is simply part of everyday conversation. We talk about my presentations and my work for BC2M, as we discuss what she does.

I consider self confidence, self esteem, and self worth to be necessities of living well. Back in the dark days, stigma had stripped away what remained after depression took most. When friends don’t call or visit, when someone sees you on the street and turns to walk the other, stigma hurts. I was an empty person. My life was confined to my bedroom.

But now, my self-confidence is running high. My self-esteem is in a good and strong place. My self-worth is returning. All this before my friend surfaced!

It is overwhelming – in the best of ways – that someone actually likes me. My self-confidence is even stronger, my self esteem is rocking, my self-worth has increased dramatically. All of this has come about in three months. All these positive happenings have occurred because a friend treats me well and with respect. All of this is possible because we’ve done away with stigma and opened up conversations with honesty and humility.

We laugh. We share. We have been emotional…ok, I have! But, my tears are from happiness. Tears of acknowledging a moment as being special, and there have been many such moments.

At times, it’s still hard for me to grasp that such an exceptional woman likes me. But we’re working on that!

Stigma is not part of our relationship. In its place are awareness, acceptance, and understanding.

#StartTheConversation and #EndTheStigma

 

 

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