Txt, telephone or…blog…let’s talk about mental illness!


This is Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Multiple Olympic medallist Clara Hughes, lead spokesperson for the campaign, was on CTV News in Toronto today. From among the calls she fielded came this articulate gem, “To kill the pain too often means to kill oneself.”

However, and this was Clara’s message, help and hope are available to those who reach out.

Citing Bell’s initiative today, St. Paul’s (Toronto) MP Dr. Carolyn Bennett, in a Member’s Statement in the House of Commons, called on the federal government to move forward with an anti-stigma campaign. I won’t hold my breath.

To kill the pain too often means to kill oneself.

Something else important to point out is that mental illness is on a spectrum. Major depression, bipolar or schizophrenia are examples of the most serious forms of mental illness but there are plenty of gray areas, too – usually the first signs of something more serious.

My first meeting with a mental health professional came around the time that I was diagnosed HIV-positive, nearly twenty-two years ago.  I was put on the lowest dose of a common anti-depressant and it was only when I took myself off it a few years later (unsupervised, such as I did it, is never a good idea) that I realized how much it had been helping.

Then, years later, what I identified as a distinct lack of depression led me down a path of behaviour quite out of character.  Only at the bottom of the deep hole of my own digging did I again seek help at which time I was diagnosed, over time, with bipolar-II – a variant of the more extreme bipolar or manic-depressive.

Listening to a description of the condition and its symptoms I recognized myself and felt much relief. It explained much about recent feelings and behaviour but also put historic episodes into better perspective.

A change in medication once or twice, trying to minimize effects on my lipids, has resulted in a recent period of stability.

I cannot take my moods for granted, certainly not the good ones.  Yet I feel that, so long as I take my medications (“head meds” or those for HIV/AIDS), I have hope.

Social contact cannot be over-emphasized either.

Thank you Candy Crowley and “State of the Union”


“I think you might have bipolar disorder,” he (psychiatrist) said.

“Oh, thank God,” I answered.

Surprise registered on his face. “I don’t think I’ve ever had that reaction before.”

“No, I am so relieved,” I said. “Now that we know what it is, we can fix it.”

Andrea Ball (Statesman.com)Jared Loughner and the stigma and the reality of mental illness

Andrea Ball’s reaction to her psychiatrist was nearly identical to mine.  As with her a diagnosis, while a tremendous relief, marked only the beginning of treatment – and fighting stigma.  More about that later.

Last night I wrote:

I eagerly watched three of the Sunday morning news shows: NBC’s “Meet the Press”, ABC’s “This Week” and last, only because I wanted to highlight it, CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley (transcript here).

Dr. Fred Frese was on, (click to view the segment) a psychologist for 40 years, and the former president of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Association, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a young adult.

He also plays a role in an amazing PBS program “Minds on the Edge”. (It’s just under an hour long but compelling to watch, I assure you.)

Back to Monday…

Most people I have spoken to, or heard speak, about their mental illness diagnosis – and my interest is nudged, in particular, regarding bipolar or bipolar II affective disorders – often share a history of other diagnoses.  The most common of these is major depression.

I have felt the stigma of depression sometimes when it has been pooh-poohed as irrelevant, were I only to remain abstinent from alcohol and other drugs (which I have for most of the past 25 years).  How could anyone contest, I maintain even now, that the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS in 1989 might realistically set off depression?

That was my entry into the mental health field, a psychiatrist seeing me on the condition that I be a minimum of one year sober.

The late 1980s through the early-to-mid-90s were some of my most difficult years, emotionally, (and not just mine by any stretch) and no wonder as the scythe of AIDS swept through circles of friends “in recovery” who came together as in-home care teams while memorial services were being planned for others and still others were just receiving news of their diagnosis.

I knew my anti-depressant was working as the tears flowed, not inhibiting my emotions one bit.  I found out the hard way what it’s like to guide one’s self off such medications.

Another crisis, years later, the one which led to my bipolar II diagnosis, followed the death of my brother (but which had obviously begun much earlier) when I could not grasp the harmful consequences of spending money I did not have – and on people I could not have!  The absence of depression (but hypomania) was all that mattered.  My relationship wth money has been like that all my life.  Spending it blinds me to the risks of being without.  The proportions to which I took this, at this time however, are more embarrassing than I feel ready to go into here.

Through it all, it must be said, I have been blessed with something so many others with mental illness are too often without – a secure roof over my head.  I have been in this housing co-op, with rent geared to income, since 1992.   That’s something I give thanks for each time I pass someone, probably with mental health problems, who has claimed a piece of sidewalk for themselves.