CALGARY, Jan. 4 /CNW/ - The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)
has partnered with B.C.'s Interior Health Authority to deliver special
workshops which aim to reduce stigma and discrimination associated with
mental illness amongst health care providers. Understanding the Impact
of Stigma was shared with emergency room workers in seven hospitals and
community clinics throughout B.C. including Castlegar, Kelowna,
Williams Lake, Kamloops, Penticton, Salmon Arm and Cranbrook.
Niki Hylins, artist and mother of two who also has bipolar disorder,
shares her personal experience at the workshops about the stigma she
encountered in the health care setting.
"Stigma within the health care system has a powerfully harmful effect,"
says Hylins. "On the flip side, intelligent, caring treatment can have
a positive effect on patients. That is immeasurably more powerful."
Cheryl Whittleton, Team Leader of Emergency at BC's Castlegar and
District Health Centre who piloted the program, says Hylins' message
had a significant impact at the workshops. "The majority of
participants felt that her presentation was very powerful and it
brought some to tears," she says.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada's 10-year
anti‐stigma/anti-discrimination initiative, Opening Minds, is working
with organizations across the country to evaluate and identify programs
that are successful in changing behaviours and attitudes toward those
who suffer from mental illness. Understanding the Impact of Stigma
utilizes contact based education, a method which has been proven to
help create attitude and behavioural change through the sharing of
This year, seven million Canadians will experience a mental health
problem. Stigma is a major barrier preventing many people from seeking
See below Niki Hylins' story and picture.
About the Mental Health Commission of Canada
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 help people who live with mental
health problems lead meaningful and productive lives. The Mental Health
Commission of Canada is funded by Health Canada.
Putting the spotlight on mental health stigma in BC emergency rooms
Niki Hylins tried for months to explain to her boyfriend how unhappy and
hopeless she felt, but the conversations kept failing. He finally got
it when she showed him a dark self-portrait she'd drawn and he cried.
"He said he didn't know that this was what I was going through and he
apologized for the lack of caring on his part," says Hylins who lives
in Penticton, B.C.
Art was a refuge from a turmoil that swirled within her. At times she
suffered from depression, or was incredibly restless. During those
restless, manic phases, she moved from job to job, and from place to
place, travelling the world in hopes of finding something, anything to
end the profound sadness.
Hylins realized something was very wrong with her, so she repeatedly
sought help from doctors. She was constantly misdiagnosed and often
prescribed the wrong medications, which caused her mental health to
plunge to frighteningly new lows.
Now 37, Hylins recalls visiting one doctor years ago who was noticeably
"She actually kind of chuckled when I talked about my experiences. She
wrote out yet another prescription for something and didn't say a word.
Not one. No advice, no comment on what was happening to me, nothing."
Hylins believes that particular doctor and many of the others she saw
had a stigma towards patients with mental illness. That stigma was not
only unhelpful but also worsened her own self-perception.
The stigma held by health care workers is an issue slowly being
identified by the medical profession itself.
In 26 years of nursing in several hospital emergency rooms (ERs), Cheryl
Whittleton has seen plenty of examples.
"Physicians or even nurses would say 'this client is going to take half
an hour so let's do the people with the sore throats and stitches
first'," says Whittleton, now Team Leader of Emergency at BC's
Castlegar and District Health Centre. Even though the client with the
mental health issue had a higher triage level, he or she was put on the
Another incident involved a long-time friend who came into an ER one
night where she was working. The woman had a mental illness and
Whittleton overheard staff speaking inappropriately and dismissing her
needs. She explained her friend's illness to her colleagues and the
woman was admitted. Had she not spoken up, Whittleton believes her
friend would have been discharged without treatment.
Whittleton thought ERs in the Interior could benefit from more awareness
about the issue, so she brought it up at a committee meeting, and
At around the same time, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)
was looking for proposals from projects across Canada already
addressing stigma among health care workers. The MHCC's Opening Minds
program is a ten year anti-stigma/anti-discrimination Initiative that
has chosen health care professionals as one of its initial target
groups. The organization says it is on the medical front lines where
people feel they experience some of the most deeply felt stigma and
Opening Minds is partnering with and conducting evaluations of about 49
programs across the country designed to reduce stigma. It will then
take the best programs and roll them out across the country.
Opening Minds also identified sites offering to serve as pilot projects,
and brought them together with existing programs. When Whittleton saw
the presentation about a program piloted last year by Ontario's Central
Local Health Integration Network from north of Toronto, which had
proven to be successful at reducing stigma among health care providers,
she realized it could work in her area. She also realized something
"I think I'm a good nurse," she says, "but I saw in myself some of the
things that were discussed in that workshop and I was ashamed. I
recognized that it's my job to advocate for patients and to be more
mindful of the terms I use when treating them."
With Opening Minds bringing the two health regions together, and help
from the Interior Health Authority, Whittleton facilitated a series of
workshops this fall identical to the Ontario program. They were held at
seven interior hospitals and community clinics in B.C., including in
Castlegar, Kelowna, Williams Lake, Kamloops, Penticton, Salmon Arm and
Cranbrook, and attended by dozens of emergency department workers who
heard first-hand how stigma can affect patients. Whittleton asked Niki
Hylins if she would help.
"It was really hard to tell my story over and over," says Hylins, who
did just that at each of the workshops.
She explained to her audiences how she believed stigma prevented her
from getting properly diagnosed and treated during her 22 years of
symptoms. She also told them how that lack of care ultimately forced
her on a blind search to help herself. Hylins spent hours on the
internet researching her symptoms and discovered she had the same ones
experienced in bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist confirmed she was
Hylins says it's now important to her to try to educate health workers
about the impact they can have. "Stigma within the health care system
has a powerfully harmful effect;" she says, and on the flip side,
intelligent, caring treatment can have a positive effect on patients,
"that is immeasurably more powerful."
Whittleton says Hylins' message had a significant impact at the
workshops. "The majority of participants felt that her presentation was
very powerful and it brought some to tears," she says.
The participants were surveyed following the workshop and asked a series
of questions about its usefulness. When asked, "Do you think this type
of workshop is useful in reducing prejudice and discrimination against
people with persistent mental illness," one participant wrote: "Yes, I
think this workshop is necessary, important and a very big step in the
Whittleton says she is grateful that the MHCC chose to work with her to
bring about awareness in central B.C.
Today, Hylins says the medical profession, which so often failed her, is
now saving her life by giving her the tools she needs to treat her
Her restlessness is now well-managed and she's focused on a new venture
called Okanagan Creative Connections, where she teaches fine art
classes with therapeutic aspects incorporated into the lessons. Most of
her students suffer from mental illness and it was for them that she
started her business.
"My goal is to improve their quality of life and empower them to create
through innovative instruction, mentoring and self-expression."
In October, the Penticton art gallery hosted a psychiatric art show
featuring 30 works from the classes.
Her life is now full - and busy. In addition to her classes, she sells
art, works on engaging her community in mental wellness creative
projects and, along with her husband, is raising their two small
children. Hylins says she hasn't had much time lately to create art for
her own self-expression. When she does, however, she expects that
whatever she draws, paints or sculpts will no longer bring people to
tears. She's hoping they will see instead the joy that she's
/NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo accompanying this release is available
at http://photos.newswire.ca. Images are free to accredited members of
SOURCE Mental Health Commission of Canada
For further information:
For Interviews with Cheryl Whittleton or Micheal Pietrus contact:
Kristin Bernhard, Communication Specialist
Office: 403 385-4066
Cell: 403 620-2339