Men­tal health

Brian Hod­der: To­gether we can shat­ter the stigma

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - PROVINCIAL - Brian Hod­der Brian Hod­der is an LGBTQ ac­tivist and works in the field of men­tal health and ad­dic­tions. He can be reached at bd­hod­der@hot­

Last week was Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week in Canada and events and in­for­ma­tion ses­sions were held across the coun­try to draw at­ten­tion to this im­por­tant is­sue in our so­ci­ety.

In this prov­ince, the death of RCMP Cpl. Trevor O’keefe through sui­cide early in Septem­ber drew at­ten­tion to the prob­lem of post-trau­matic stress syn­drome (PTSD) among those who are first re­spon­ders to ac­ci­dents and other trau­matic events. One of the things iden­ti­fied in this process was the need for im­proved ser­vices to help those who work in these pro­fes­sions, as they are at higher risk to ex­pe­ri­ence these types of prob­lems.

In re­sponse to this need, the Royal New­found­land Con­stab­u­lary and the Con­sumers’ Health Aware­ness Net­work New­found­land and Labrador (CHANNAL) part­nered last week to let first re­spon­ders in this prov­ince know about some of the ser­vices that are avail­able to them. Through this process, CHANNAL was able to out­line to RNC of­fi­cers the var­i­ous ser­vices they can of­fer to them — which are also avail­able to any­one in the gen­eral pub­lic — if they are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties deal­ing with any men­tal health is­sue. They es­pe­cially high­lighted their “Warm Line,” an anony­mous call-in line that has been run­ning since May and which al­lows callers to talk about their men­tal health is­sues be­fore they build to a cri­sis sit­u­a­tion. You can reach this line by call­ing 1-888-753-2560.

One of the is­sues raised by first re­spon­ders was the dif­fi­culty in reach­ing out for help with men­tal health con­cerns due to the per­ceived stigma at­tached to these prob­lems. While we have come a long way in re­cent years, this re­mains a real prob­lem in these work- places and in many other work­places across this coun­try. As much as I would like to be­lieve that peo­ple are not prej­u­diced against those with a di­ag­no­sis of men­tal health in the work­place, I can’t ig­nore the re­al­ity that ex­ists.

Con­sider two em­ploy­ees of equal train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing con­sid­ered for a pro­mo­tion; one has a di­ag­no­sis of di­a­betes and the other has been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der. Both re­quire med­i­ca­tion to deal with their ill­ness and both have had to take some time off in the pre­vi­ous year due to a health is­sue as­so­ci­ated with their ill­ness. Which em­ployee do you think will likely get the pro­mo­tion?

The stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal ill­ness will most likely mean that the em­ployee with bipo­lar will not get the pro­mo­tion. Con­se­quently, most other em­ploy­ees with a men­tal health prob­lem will not dis­close in the work­place or will ac­tively hide their prob­lem, and some even refuse to seek help or treat-

Con­sider two em­ploy­ees of equal train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing con­sid­ered for a pro­mo­tion; one has a di­ag­no­sis of di­a­betes and the other has been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der.

ment for fear their ill­ness will be re­vealed. While the em­ployee with di­a­betes can talk about his ill­ness and re­ceive help and sup­port in the work­place, the one with men­tal ill­ness will be driven fur­ther into the shad­ows, which may worsen the ef­fect of his ill­ness, lead­ing to re­duced work per­for­mance.

This is an un­healthy dy­namic for all in­volved and we need to find ways to change this par­a­digm.

One place where we can start is to con­sider how stigma around men­tal health is built into our health-care sys­tem. We have cho­sen to sep­a­rate phys­i­cal and men­tal health as if both were not part of the over­all health of hu­man be­ings. In this city, if you have a phys­i­cal health prob­lem, you are sent to the Health Sci­ences Cen­tre — a fairly mod­ern build­ing with state-of-the-art equip­ment — and if you have a men­tal health prob­lem, you are sent to the Water­ford Hospi­tal, an an­cient, run­down build­ing which had been in need of re­place­ment for years.

The time has come to unite all as­pects of our health and to stop as­sign­ing dif­fer­ent val­ues to men­tal and phys­i­cal health; both are vi­tal to a healthy hu­man pop­u­la­tion and we are health­i­est when both work hand-in-hand. If our health­care sys­tem bet­ter re­flected this, it would go a long way to­wards re­mov­ing the stigma around men­tal health in our work­places and through­out the rest of so­ci­ety.

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