The week of October 3-9, 2016 was Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, to celebrate it, Arrowhead Clubhouse joined 10 cities across the country to create awareness and to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.
For many folks, the diagnosis of a mental illness most often comes with a prescription for medication. In many cases, this is a good thing because the truly shattering symptoms of illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be greatly relieved by careful chemical assistance.
But, as good as many medications are, many patients do not respond positively to them. Indeed, many feel some clinical benefit while having to endure significant negative side-effects. Some of these can include weight gain, insomnia, and loss of libido – which can be emotionally devastating.
Every day I field questions about mental health issues, but this one is the most common: Beyond medication, are there ways I can make my life happier?
Yes! There are lifestyle and social choices that can dovetail nicely with pharmaceutical interventions and lead to a more gratifying and positive future.
The first is love and acceptance – and this area I address to family and friends of folks living with a mental illness, and to the community in general.
The stigma borne by people with mental illness is strong, and it is a sad fact that many sufferers isolate themselves to avoid it. This only makes matters worse. Just knowing there is support, understanding, and acceptance can make symptoms feel less horrible.
The second is exercise. In my days as a personal trainer, I saw daily the positive influence on mood that regular exercise causes. There is abundant research that links an up-tick in mood following physical exertion. Part of the problem with folks suffering mental illness is motivation; and this brings up the point I made above. With love and support, that motivational push can come from a friend or family member who cares.
A few years ago, I worked with a massage therapist with a group of psych patients at a Lower Mainland hospital. For a month, I led a daily session of stretching, a fast walk, and another stretching session. This was followed by 30 minutes of massage. The effect was dramatic. Our feedback forms revealed that all patients said their mood was improved and their outlook more hopeful.
There are many theories about why exercise works. My own belief is that the mind and the body are one. An unquiet mind feels and is influenced by an active body and positive body image. Move the legs, and the spirit will follow.
Art – I can’t stress enough the value of creative expression and its ability to bring peace to a tortured psyche. There are many high-minded theories about the role of art and its influence on mood – stuff like elevated serotonin levels and the like. But I take a more simple view. I think that art comes from our core self, the place that is truly “me” and which can be accessed only with the most honest intention.
I have the great honour to know and count as friends many members of the Arrowhead Clubhouse, many of whom have artistic abilities and inclinations. I have seen incredible works of art produced by members and am overwhelmed by the beauty and inspiration in their work – and by the clarity and peace of mind the act of creating art can cause.
So, a loving and accepting social environment, lots of vigorous exercise, and the freedom to express artistically: these are essential components for a happy life.
Hugh Macaulay- Community Columnist and Board Member of Arrowhead Clubhouse
It is no secret that the stigma attached to mental illness is the result of two things, ignorance and fear, and that the former feeds the latter.
We acquire the majority of our knowledge about the world through the media. If our understanding of mental illness is so lacking that we remain in a state of ignorance, then it makes sense to look at the way we digest news, and to strive for a higher degree of personal media literacy. In this way, we can avoid falling into the trap of misunderstanding and its unfortunate consequences.
The first step in this process is to understand the nature of the news business, and how the typical journalist’s dedication to objective news gathering must coexist with the needs of media owners.
A reporter’s job is to tell a balanced and fair story. A media owner’s job is to make money. It is easy to see how these can be uneasy bedmates. Journalists are frequently under pressure from above to deliver stories with conflict, tension, and maybe a little gore, because this is what sells.
Of course, we all understand this. Who’s going to read a story headlined “Polite local drivers obey traffic laws”? Not me.
Merely recognizing this makes us better, more informed news consumers. However, we can and must dig a little deeper if we are to be more sophisticated and avoid the consequences of sensationalism.
Consider the following. It is from a national broadcaster’s website about two patients who wandered away from the forensic psychiatric facility on the Lower Mainland.
“The escapes have caused concern in the local community, particularly in the Kwikwetlem First Nation, which is located near the hospital. ‘I’m fearful for the nation. We’ve got kids here. We’ve got elders here. God forbid something bad happens,’ [a representative] said.”
No doubt this account is accurate, in a technical sense, but it is also emotionally loaded. There is a subtle-but-key language choice, the decision to use a highly suggestive quote, and the subsequent assumption that mental health patients are inherently dangerous.
By using the word “escapes,” the reporter conjures an image of prisoners sliding down knotted bed sheets amid sirens and searchlights. These were patients, not inmates, and the facility in question houses a wide spectrum of clients.
The expressed fear for the safety of children and old people is no doubt heartfelt, but it suggests an almost caricatured hysteria.
These two story elements, easily missed in a quick reading, nonetheless leave a distinct emotional impression which, in turn, creates the unwarranted assumption that mental illness and public danger are connected.
A related and all-too-common story element to watch out for goes like this: “Constable Plod said it was unclear whether the suspect had a mental illness.”
Why so automatically link crime with mental illness? Statistics certainly don’t warrant it. In fact, most folks commit crimes because they are poor, hungry, or just had a really bad day. Yet reporters, editors and news consumers allow this casual connection to breeze by without question.
Having said all this, I am all for colourful storytelling; and I love the English language for its delightful ambiguity. But when these staples of the reading experience lead to increasing the stigma attached to mental illness, then news consumers owe it to themselves and their community to become more media savvy.
Hugh Macaulay- Community Columnist and Board Member of Arrowhead Clubhouse
Yesterday the Sunshine Coast Roller Girls presented a cheque for over $500 to Arrowhead Clubhouse after a season of partnering with us. We were able to do outreach at their bouts and spread the word about what Arrowhead does. As well, members got to enjoy cheering on the team! We are looking forward to this upcoming season and continuing supporting the women of this great team!
Faith Of A Special Child
My special child stands straight and tall
She did not loss her faith at all
When I gave up, forgot to pray,
My daughter fought and found her way
She fought and struggled till she could stand
Then God gently took her by the hand
He tenderly dried her tears
He made her wise beyond her years
I watched a miracle slowly unfold
My joy was more than my heart could hold
He gave her a love rarely seen these days
Now I understand why He made this way
My angel walks my angel talks
She also runs and plays
I’ll never lose my faith again
Or question his reasons and ways.
-submitted by Pam Baird