Posted in Did you know?

I’m not mentally ill, just experiencing an emotional setback…

me in Shawbridge CreekBack in the ’60’s, I remember hearing my relatives and mother’s friends saying things like, “Oh, I just came back from a long needed rest from an emotional setback.”  My mother, the hairdresser/counsellor, would nod sympathically.  My French Canadian Grandmaman would call them, des dures épreuves (difficult hardships).  As a kid, all I could decipher from that was these women went away on trips leaving with long faces and came back refreshed and smiling.  So I figured that many women who spoke to my mom and Grandmaman went on these long vacations and came back rejuvenated.  That was part of my education on mental health.

Then I remember when my parents decided to separate, my mother kept the blinds in the house drawn, constantly played Connie Frances albums (whining and whining) and took lots of valium.  I learned from that how some women did not get treatment or help but just prescriptions for pills that made them zombies.  That angered me and it made me suspicious of doctors who treated female patients.

Back to 2013…

I just completed a 2 day intensive training on suicide prevention. The training is a requirement to be certified as crisis counsellors in suicide prevention.  I feel fortunate that our agency has provided this to all of the counsellors.

I have attended many workshops and conferences over the years but this was amazing.  It was very “hands on” which is how I learn best.  I have many years’ experience in crisis intervention and front line telephone response to suicidal calls but this training reaffirmed skills I did have and also put things in perspective as well as offered us a map to follow.

What I learned was that once I leave a youth and he or she has disclosed supports and a desire to live, that they want to get help and even if they hang up…I don’t have to carry the weight of that worry for days…they probably will get support.   I realized this when looking at the “map”, a phone call came to mind of a teenager who was suicidal and hung up just as I was conferencing him to emergency services.  He had agreed to give life a chance and accepted we talk to his local hospital.  But since he disconnected, I was worried that whole weekend…Fortunately he called back a few days later to thank me and tell me he was safe and had gone to hospital.  Phew!!

That said,  had I had this “map”, I would not have fretted so much.  I know better now:D     This was quite a relief because working on an anonymous phone line makes it almost impossible getting feedback or knowing if a youth is safe or not.

After the first day of training, the trainer gave us an assignment.

1) to share with someone what I learned today about suicide to break the stigma on mental health and

2) to do something to make me feel good…part of self-care.

And so, I decided to visit my friend and we rented a movie at her place. And to kill 2 birds with one stone, she is the person I shared my training with.

One remark struck me, “But everyone has suicidal thoughts from time to time…that is not a mental health disorder!”  Hmmm, I had to rethink how to respond to that one.   I often hear that remark from many people of all walks of life.

It is always a slippery slope, isn’t it when trying to demystify mental illness?  If a person thinks it is a mental illness, they just may not admit they are having certain thoughts; if we sugar coat it enough, people will feel more comfortable thinking that when they were depressed for x-amount of months and going through a difficult period in their lives, that was just an exceptional situation but did not have any relationship with mental health.  That’s right, calling it emotional well-being and getting back on track is easier to digest…right? But does it help anyone really?

If it is always kept in the “closet”, how is anyone going to learn that it is okay to feel depressed sometimes and it happens that it can last for months and months and quess what?  There IS treatment! And news flash: There is also recovery! And there IS help!

Well, it IS part of mental health and just like having  a lung infection  or kidney stones, there is treatment  for those physical health conditions!   Going through situational depression due to, let’s say,  a break-up, major life change etc. is a mental health condition too!

We need to call it  what it is and hopefully more people will admit and talk more openly about the times they have experienced such mental health challenges or “emotional setbacks”  {notice how those last terms seem  to be better digested but they just mask the truth};  why not call it what it is and talk openly that you  appreciate the help you received for that mental health condition way back when?…rather than say you experienced an “emotional setback”…sheeesh!!

stigma-and-suffering8.pngI remember years ago, I was off work for a good 4 to 5 months.  At the time, I knew I was physically and emotionally burned out.  I had worked and volunteered so much to avoid dealing with difficult choices I had to make in my personal life.  My body just broke down, I only wanted to sleep, my back was in constant pain and when I was awake, I could not hold back my tears.  After explaining my situation yo my family doctor,  she diagnosed “situational depression”.

Holding that piece of paper to send to my insurance for benefits was not easy! I kept staring at the words and broke down. I felt so weak, like a failure.  Me,  who was used to working at 2 to 3 part time jobs, raising my family and pursuing my studies at university…plus volunteering on several committees.  How could this happen to me?!  Well, I think about it now and realize I was heading for disaster after job number 2 and all that volunteering.  Keeping busy busy busy to NOT have to look into myself and sort out some of my personal problems. 

It became clear several months later when I was taking a counselling course at my university that lasted from September to March;   we had to be in counselling with another university in the city in order to take the course.  Part of the course requirement was to write a detailed report on our “counselling experience”.  I wish all universities required this. I learned so much and know that today, I am a better counsellor because of that experience.  I also learned to not shy away from going for counselling throughout my adulthood for support during certain transitions in my life.  It helps  A LOT!   I  find that when I am in therapy, my counselling skills also sharpen—A LOT!

After my time off work, I remember going to my family doctor and discussing my goal and dream to start up a 10 week support group for people who have suffered some form of depression, who received treatment and were recovering.  The goal was to allow them to see they were not alone, it was okay to say they had been there and came back and encourage them to feel good about themselves and not ashamed of their past mental illness…My doctor was all for it and told me to let her know when it was up and running as she would refer patients to it when they were ready.

Well, I never got around to doing it as I did get busy with work and life and eventually made that major change in my life but maybe someday soon…I hope.

In the meantime, I have started volunteering at an agency that supports caregivers and friends of people with mental health conditions as well as those who suffer with various conditions.  It is a huge learning experience for me.  I feel honoured to be part of this agency.

Also, I try to be honest about my past.  Ironically, it is in my workplace that I find is the touchiest place to admit this.  Yes, you’ve heard correctly!  I hesitate to share with many mental health professionals.   Some of my colleagues who have experienced past mental health conditions are open to discuss this and embrace my experience as well but those who have never experienced it…professional or not, some may be young and lack experience or just have a perception or attitude of “us and them”;  some may need more education on this…or a shift in their perception …again, the need to talk more would certainly help.

My eyes opened when I was healing from my time off work.  A doctor where I worked had been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder and he was also a friend.  He had struggled for years not understanding his mood chanes and finally felt relief…there was a name to his chaos…there was treatment, finally!  And the board of directors of the agency where I worked at the time, accepted that he still practise medecin at the same agency.

I know, personally I was humbled having experienced my depression.    It allowed me to grow as a person.  It brought me closer to life and  made me realize how fragile it can be at times. It taught me how vulnerable I had become and I had pushed myself too hard.  I learned to read the signs better when I push too far…my emotional signs, my physical signs and my mental health signs.  They are all related as one will notice how physical ailments are often linked to mental health conditions. {Insomnia, joint problems, back pain, digestion, migraines etc.)

I am glad I had that assignment to do last week as that comment of “resistance” and “denial” made me realize just how much we need to keep talking about mental health and the mental illnesses that DO exist…that there IS treatment and there IS recovery.

©Cheryl-Lynn Roberts, May 20, 2013



A little bit about moi: I am a mom, a nana, a sister, a woman, a friend, a human being…a youth counsellor, Family Life Educator. I have been working in the helping profession for over 25 years and volunteered in various capacities from youths to seniors. Tournesol is my nom de plume for haiku and other Japanese form poetry here at Tournesoldansunjardin I hope you enjoy reading through my daily waka. I also have another blog "Stop the Stigma" where I may stand on my soapbox now and then and hope it will become a place to drop in and share or comment on issues important to you. In that vein this could be a great way to learn from each other. Namaste!

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