I have written and spoken for a number of years about my journey through mental illness. The topic of stigma/discrimination is a constant part of any conversation of mental health awareness. By its very nature, it has sadly too often had a devastating impact on people. I can attest to that harm.
Let’s flip it somewhat; let’s focus on situations in which one could expect stigma to be present, but it is not. Some good stuff for a change!
One place where stigma plays a role is the mental health training program for the local police service. I have been invited to speak to the officers for the last five years.
I remember the first time I met with a dozen officers, a few of whom I knew. We sat around a boardroom table and I spoke for about an hour. I expected there would be some discussion given the small group and the informal setting. But there were no questions and no comments.
I turn to last year’s session with 45 police officers and firefighters in attendance.
I was scheduled to speak for 30 minutes.
After finishing, seven officers had questions and comments. We had a very forthright discussion. Questions covered such topics as what symptoms to recognize and how to approach someone who may need help. The officers wanted to be part of the discussion. One even acknowledged his own struggles with PTSD. They recognized the need to understand and address mental health concerns in their workplace and at home. The unscheduled Q & A lasted about a half hour. I was proud of their willingness to have such a conversation.
I felt a sense of accomplishment, not just for myself, but for everyone who has been advocating for so many years. The officers made me proud, too. We are making a difference. We are changing minds. It took years, but stigma/discrimination is being overcome.
My next presentation to the police is in a few weeks. I hope to engage the officers even more so and to address their own mental health.
Another situation is more personal.
Through the last 16 years, I have witnessed and felt too much pain, so I am amazed when some people treat me so wonderfully.
The “special one” (the nickname I call my compassionate love interest) appeared one day.
It was a random meeting. I felt like I was sixteen again, not sure what to say or how to behave. I hadn’t spoken to many women since 2003.
I had no difficulty mentioning my journey with depression. It is part of my life, past and current. She readily understood. We discussed it at length, not only in terms of my having been ill, but also how it has changed my approach to living. Life is now Worth Living.
My history with depression was simply part of our everyday conversation. We talked about my presentations and volunteer work with Bring Change 2 Mind and other mental health advocacy groups. We talked about what she was doing, too. Just a part of the relationship.
I remember after a trip to New York City, she texted me.
The first text was “Keith.” My anxiety kicked in. Would the next text be good or bad? We had been together 24/7 from a Monday to Friday.
“I really like you,” popped up. All was good. Hey, someone so special liked me!
Discrimination was not part of our relationship. In its place were awareness, acceptance and understanding.
“Is this the age of the thunder and rage
Can you feel the ground move ’round your feet
If you take one step closer, it’ll lead to another
The crossroad above is where we meet
I shout out for shelter, I need you for something
The whole world is out, they’re all on the street
Control yourself, love is all you need
Control yourself, in your eyes
Sanctify yourself, sanctify
Be a part of me, sanctify
Sanctify yourself, sanctify
Sanctify yourself, set yourself free”
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