By: Jen Jensen
OTTAWA, April 26 /CNW/ - "Life is great today," Constantin says. That's
a remarkable statement from someone who has lived with severe
depression and anxiety for many years.
Hospitals were something Constantin tried to avoid, because he often
experienced stigma from frontline workers who were too clinical and
rigid. "It's not an environment that made me want to open up with a
complete stranger who didn't seem to care or would look down on me."
His tendency to shut down would then get him labelled as non-compliant
or uncooperative, worsening an already difficult situation. "I never
felt any compassion when I visited emergency rooms," he says.
Constantin recalls one visit to a psychiatric ward. "I couldn't escape
the pain and the darkness inside of me. The medication wasn't working,
and it had nothing to do with drinking or drugging; the partying had
stopped a long time ago. This had everything to do with my mental
With a bungee cord hidden in his shorts, he planned to strangle himself
because "the system hadn't helped much in the last decade anyway," he
says. But before he got the chance, a nurse entered his room, put her
hand on his arm, and said, "Constantin, I can't imagine what pain
you're going through, but we're going to work together, and we're going
to find a way to help you. You're not alone."
This pivotal moment, a simple but profound act of kindness by a nurse,
changed his life.
He says his journey toward recovery was like a puzzle, with pieces
falling into place over time. And when he met that one kind nurse in
the hospital, he decided to start helping himself get better.
Now well into recovery, Constantin is on a mission to make a difference
himself by sharing his story at Ontario's Central Local Health
Integration Network's (LHIN) workshops entitled "Mental Health and
Addictions: Understanding the Impact of Stigma."
"The Central LHIN's Education Work Group was given a huge task to
provide mental health education," says Arla Hamer, who chaired the
workshop's Work Group at the time. On a tight deadline and an even
tighter budget, her team developed a strategy to focus their efforts.
"Intuitively, with all of us being mental health professionals, we
recognized that the way to have the greatest impact was to address
stigma," Hamer says.
The workshops have since been presented to about 900 health care
professionals working in different hospitals and health care sites
across the region.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada's Opening Minds initiative is
partnering with and conducting evaluations of over 40 similar programs
across the country, including the Central LHIN program. Each program is
designed to reduce the stigma commonly experienced by many people
living with a mental illness. The goal of Opening Minds is to share and
promote successful programs across Canada.
Joanna Meeke attended the Central LHIN workshop when it was in
Newmarket. A case manager at LOFT/Crosslinks Housing and Support
Services, Joanna works with many people who live with a mental illness.
Wondering why some are reluctant to seek help from a psychiatrist, she
asks "if you fall off the deck, break your leg and experience a lot of
pain, you go to the hospital and get a cast, right?"
Workshop participants received information about myths related to mental
illness and the role stigma plays as a major barrier to people seeking
help. According to the evaluations, the highlight was stories from
people like Constantin: personal testimonials from individuals living
with a mental illness about the challenges they've faced, the stigma
they've experienced, and what has helped them recover. Recovery is
often defined as reaching a point when a person with a mental health
problem is able to get on with life, just like someone who learns to
live with arthritis or diabetes. Similar to a physical illness,
recovery is possible.
Many health care workers rarely get insight into recovery once their
patients move beyond their mental health crisis. Constantin has a
positive impact speaking to the workshop's audience, not only because
he shares his personal story, but also because he is mentally healthy
enough to stand in front of them and speak.
Because the Central LHIN program has proven to be effective at reducing
stigma, Opening Minds is now helping to replicate it in other health
regions across the country. In British Columbia, the Interior Health
Authority adapted the Central LHIN program to deliver it to health care
providers in seven communities last fall. The IWK Health Centre, a
major children's hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia, plans to use the
program in the coming months. Another Ontario LHIN is running programs
this spring, and plans are underway to take it to healthcare providers
in the Northwest Territories as well.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada sees its role as being a catalyst
for change. Ontario's Central LHIN is helping make that goal a reality.
About the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for transformative
change. Our mission is to work with stakeholders to change the
attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve
services and support. Our goal is to promote mental health and help
people who live with mental health problems lead meaningful and
productive lives. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by
Health Canada. For more, visit www.mentalhealthcommission.ca.
About Opening Minds, the MHCC's anti-stigma initiative
This year, seven million Canadians will experience a mental health
problem. Stigma is a major barrier preventing many people from seeking
help. Opening Minds is the MHCC's Anti-Stigma Initiative designed to
change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians towards those living
with mental illness. Opening Minds is initially targeting four groups:
Health Care Providers, Youth, the Workforce and Media and other
Professional Associations. The initiative is currently evaluating
anti-stigma programs across Canada to identify which are successful at
changing attitudes and behaviours related to mental illnesses. The
successful programs will be replicated and promoted elsewhere in the
SOURCE Mental Health Commission of Canada
For further information:
Photo available upon request. For interviews, contact:
Kristin Bernhard, Communication Specialist
Office: 403 385-4066
Cell: 403 620-2339