Dealing with the ongoing stigma of mental illness

The mother of a Canadian soldier who took his own life is upset with the Canadian Military’s method, or lack thereof,

The mother of a Canadian soldier who took his own life is upset with the Canadian Military’s method, or lack thereof, of dealing with the problem.

Sheila Fynes, the mother of Corporal Stuart Langridge, has stated that mental illness continues to be stigmatized by the military, despite several suicides within the ranks of the Canadian Forces in the last few months.

Fynes has said she would like to see the military take some responsibility for these deaths rather than treat the mental illnesses that led to them as a discipline problem.

Instead, the message from the Canadian Forces, while subtle, seems to be, “If they can’t step up, we can’t be responsible.”

If you ask me, it’s a trend that is not exclusive to the military.

Across the globe, the general population’s attitude towards mental illness seems to be, “It’s your problem, deal with it.”

As if it was that simple.

Mental illnesses are extremely difficult to understand, because they deal with the brain, the most complex organ in the body and the one we know the least about. They are also difficult to understand for the people who suffer from mental illness.

Their brain has become sick and is not functioning properly.

Stop and think about that for a second. Your brain, the organ that controls everything in your body and most importantly, the way you think, is not working the way it is supposed to.

That means you aren’t behaving in a way that is normal, that means you aren’t feeling emotions in a way that is normal, that means you don’t rationalize thought in a way that is normal.

Can you imagine how scary it is for someone going through it? Or how dangerous it can be?

Talk to the family of someone who took their own life after being diagnosed (or not) with a mental illness like depression. They will quite often say things like, “He wasn’t thinking straight.”

That’s because it’s true.

Yet, somehow, we tend to stigmatize mental illness and treat it as something other than what it is, an illness. Instead, we like to view mental health conditions as weaknesses of character.

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with a rare, non-life-threatening form of skin cancer. The only treatment I needed was to have the tumor removed, but the word ‘cancer’ carries a certain ominous feeling.

Even though I wasn’t sick and there was nothing wrong with me other than having a weird purple blotch on my belly, many of my friends and family were concerned.

In fact, the most distressing thing to me while I had cancer was the unnerving amount of concern people showed me.

No one told me to man up and deal with it, nobody said it was just in my head. Everyone was concerned about how the treatment would work. But, had I been diagnosed with depression, things might have been different.

There is a fantastic cartoon that you can probably find via a Google image search that illustrates how ridiculous this reality is quite well.

It depicts people clearly suffering from physical maladies or injuries while other people say the kinds of things we like to tell people who suffer from mental illness.

For example, in a frame depicting someone kneeling next to a toilet, a bystander says, “Have you tried… you know… not having the flu?” In a panel where someone’s hand has been cut off, a bystander says, “You just need to change your frame of mind. Then you’ll feel better.”

When you put mental health in that kind of perspective, it really does seem silly not to treat it like an illness, doesn’t it?


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