Posted by: jude49 | May 16, 2012

Still Frightened of Mental Illness?

May 16, 2012

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May is Mental Health Month. This month is dear to my heart as for much of my life, I have struggled with panic attack disorder with agoraphobia and major depression. My experiences with these issues propelled me into a Master’s program in Social Work in 2001 which I completed in 2003. I feel it a privilege to have both the personal experience and the professional expertise to help people with anxiety and depression live better lives.

It was welcoming news to read on Tuesday of last week that the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its new strategy, Changing Directions, Changing Lives. Implementing this integrated and comprehensive program can’t come soon enough!

The mere mention of mental illness strikes fear into the hearts of most people. It has been my experience that many people, even though mental illness is as common as the common cold, have great difficulty in revealing they have a mental health issue. Recently, I heard about a mother whose adult daughter kept asking her to watch the children one day a week for an hour or so while she went to an appointment. Finally, the mother asked what kind of appointment she was attending. Her daughter sat down and quietly said, “I’m seeing a psychiatrist about my depression and anxiety.” The mother was shocked; more than that, she was disappointed that her daughter didn’t feel she could tell her. When her mother asked her daughter why she didn’t tell her, her daughter indicated she was embarrassed to admit that she was experiencing depression and anxiety. This is a “good” family, an educated family, a caring family… And yet the stigma of mental illness prevented the daughter from telling her mother the truth. And the one thing that is SO important when experiencing a mental health issue is having a loving, kind support system.  Families need to talk about mental health.  Family members need to know that mental health issues “happen” and they are not a death sentence.

Drawing on my own experience as a fellow sufferer (anxiety and depression) and a therapist, mental health is an issue that is uncomfortable for people to acknowledge, never mind discuss! Even though, one in five individuals, will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, common beliefs seem to be, “This won’t happen in our family.” If we do everything we can as parents, our children will be immune to mental illness.” If we work hard, eat well, exercise regularly, be positive, be good people, mental illness won’t come knocking on our door.” There are many other myths out there, but the fact remains that no one is immune from experiencing a mental health issue.

How we cope with mental health issues is vitally important. Many people suffer in silence. They may see a therapist, but they avoid talking to their friends and family about their experiences. And many times for good reason. Who wants to be called “mental” or “crazy” or “emotionally fragile”? Not anyone I know! When a person reveals that they are experiencing a mental health issue, they often feel as if all their friends, family and associates only see the “mental illness”…and lose sight of their strengths and wonderful character attributes. When the focus is just on the mental illness, the sufferers spiral downward negatively. Hope often disappears.  Family relationships can become strained or, at worst, ruptured.

Mental health education is crucial. Knowledge is power. I am so grateful for the many mental health practitiones who, in recent years, have “come out” and revealed their experiences with mental illness. Dr. Kay Redfield, a clinical psychologist, has written extensively about her journey with bi-polar depression that began when she was a young adult. Dr. Marsha Lineham, a world-renowed psychologist, who developed DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) to treat borderline personality disorder, disclosed in 2011, that she, herself, was diagnosed, as a young adult with borderline personality disorder, a disorder, long thought to be untreatable. In her disclosure article in the New York Times, she describes acts of self-harm and the many times she tried to commit suicide. Mental health professionals told her as a young adult that she would never be successful in life. Now in her sixties, we know that those mental health professionals were incorrect.

Mental health issues are manageable. Individuals with mental health disorders can live successful lives.

I have read many autobiographical stories of people who have suffered from mental illness. The ones who most successully managed their illness had a good support system of family and friends. Both Redfield and Lineham had family and friends who ushered them through the dark times into the light.  Medication and therapy can do much, but the empathy, understanding and involvement of family and friends can do so much more. All of us know someone who suffers. Let us reach out in compassion and kindness. Educate yourself. Listen. It won’t always be an easy journey, but I promise you it will be a worthwhile one…



Click here for more about Mental Health Day:



  1. […] Judith Barnard’s Blog – Still Frightened of Mental Illness? […]

  2. […] Judith Barnard’s Blog – Still Frightened of Mental Illness? […]

  3. […] Judith Barnard’s Blog – Still Frightened of Mental Illness? […]

  4. Thankyou for sharing such a great blog, it’s lovely to hear you chose to take your experience further and learn how to help others professionally xx

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