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Stanley Oliver
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Mental illness: no shame in talking about it

Stanley Oliver

For many years people and families didn't talk about it. It was considered a disgrace, and brought humiliation to the family.

But today I am happy that we are slowly starting to understand and talk publicly about it. We are beginning to break down the barriers around the stigma that followed this illness.

On Jan. 28, Bell Alliant celebrated "Lets Talk," a promotion that encouraged people to begin to talk about their own personal experiences with mental illness. Labrador's own Seamus O'Regan - well-known TV journalist - was the official spokesman and shared his own story for the entire world to read.

I have had the pleasure and honour of knowing Seamus for over 25 years and I was very proud that he has taken the lead role in this initiative to help lesson the mis-conceptions about mental illness.

There are many clichés used to talk about mental illness, but the one I like most is "It's not a weakness; It's a illness."

My stance on this issue? From our own family experience, we are not shy about talking about mental illness, as we have been challenged with it for about 18 years. Talking about it has made a difference in dealing with it in a positive manner.

My daughter openly talks about her struggle with this and has given me much insight on how it affects her on a daily basis. Years ago, as early as the age of seven, she was considered extremely shy, an introvert or suffered from a nervous stomach.

Now I am no physiologist but if we reflect on certain moments and knowing what we know now about anxiety, we probably would have been more open and supportive.

Mental illness in families comes in all shapes and sizes and affects the whole family (parent, grandparents, wife, husband, partners, aunts, uncles and friends), especially when first diagnosed.

But for today's purpose I will focus my comments on anxiety and stress. Initially, you feel a mixture of emotions that include concern, compassion, anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, relief and even love. Feeling these emotions are understandable and normal.

Even daily routines and relationships with family, friends and co-workers can be stressful and strained at times depending on the situation and the individual's ability to cope. What causes stress and or anxiety to one person might have no effect on someone else.

Because stress and anxiety can negatively affect physical and mental health of people, it is very important to understand what the triggers may be and how to better cope. What can you do to help your family member and more importantly what can you do to help yourself?

From our own personal experience, I would like to offer suggestions on how to begin to understand and cope with mental illness.

No. 1 - don't play the blame-game. Do not assume that you are to blame for your illness. There maybe many reasons why it occurs and is much more common then people may realize.

Mental Illness affects people of all ages, gender, culture, education and income levels. Ongoing research points to many complex combinations of a host of reasons why people suffer. There are no simple answers, but researchers are confident that the chemical, genetic, biological and physical make-up of people play a role.

No. 2 - Learn all you can about mental illness and recovery. It is very important that you learn about your own situation, since information is powerful, and can help you understand.

No. 3 - Accept your own feelings; remember you are not alone.

No. 4 - Stay connected. Don't cut yourself off from friends, co-workers and families. Staying socially active may help.

No. 5 - Join a support group. Support groups are a great venue to share your feelings with people who are going through the same thing and can help with developing positive coping strategies.

Now this is by no means meant to be a detailed insight on dealing with mental illness, as it comes in many forms, just as physical illnesses do.

But mental illness is not to be feared and we need to do better in our understanding of this illness. I would strongly encourage people to visit the Canadian Mental Health Association official website to learn more and further your understanding. I have found it to be great asset and a helpful resource.

Organizations: Lets Talk, Canadian Mental Health Association

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