London Joint Mental Health Research Day: Mental Illness Stigma

The following is an excerpt from a keynote panel I participated in with Dr. Heather Stuart on Mental Illness Stigma on June 21, 2018.

I think when we use the word stigma it can be a disservice. It becomes a boogyman for those who find its flavour and it seems a less harmful substance for those who administer it. I was not even familiar with the term stigma in the 1980’s which may be why I prefer the term shame. I think we all experience or have experienced different forms of stigma for various reasons. What makes mental health stigma so dangerous is the uniqueness of the experience. I can identify with psychosis, depression, mania and more but those terms seem trite to the realities of such and the comradery of other forms of stigma do Not exist for me. 

I recently visited an optometrist. The lenses are switched and we are asked “better …or worse?” When healthy I strive to choose that which offers a clearer view. When I am unwell I start choosing the lens that Feels correct. My stigma and stigmatism frustrate but it becomes familiar. I recently asked myself, which is greater; self stigma or societal stigma? The image that came to mind was a terrarium. Societal stigma exists and acts upon the individual but that which fogs the glass most are the processes within.

To me stigma is a veiled judgement but in my sensitivities I can see the hearts and forms as they maneuver to safer spaces. My father and step mother had a sheep farm. Sheep wander to graze but when the border collies are pushing them where the shepherd calls; they follow the same path. The pasture areas were a series of pathways. They lead to the barn, the pond etc. These pathways illustrate two areas of significance. One is mine. My mind has many pathways that lead to points of pain. I see or hear things and I am faced with the very things I seek shelter from. The other relates to stigma. When we are presented with a mentally ill person our minds travel well worn paths.

We also compartmentalize. A sheep farm is often a system of segregation. The ram is sometimes left in a paddock, the male lambs are eventually shipped off. The ewes that have lambed are left in the open area of the barn and orphaned lambs are brought into the farmhouse.

In caring for and processing a sheep herd the farmer uses ear tags with identification numbers to manage genetics and tend to the herd. As sheep are cared for sometimes the tag on the ear is of no use so the farmer uses a big grease pencil to mark the nose or back of the sheep that have been cared for. The mark is a way to keep track of feet trimmed or which ones have been inoculated etc.

Stigma is similar but at times with less planning, purpose and on levels we are not conscious of. The labelling; the branding marks of stigma allow the one or the group using the grease pencil to flee to the pond, the barn or some point of psychological safety. We are sheltered from our fears and we can nourish and replenish our perceptions of self. It allows the mind of the marker to safely segregate and build fences around misconceptions, misunderstandings and the unusual.

 

“Auld Lang Syne”

I finished a granite sink. I made it multidimensional because I have never worked with granite and I don’t have the tools. I used a skillsaw with a 4 inch diamond blade to cut the sink out and a hacksaw blade to square the corners. It probably took me longer than people who have laser saws with sliding tables.

As is often the case with Forensic patients there are not many people to witness your struggles. Only a few family members and some therapists can confirm the fact that there were many months that I would disappear from a conversation and stare at the floor. It made fellow patients uneasy and those familiar with me questioned why. I have been told that it was a Dissociative state and or symptomatic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Maybe you can appreciate that I now finish too many sentences and thoughts but they are conversations and ideas I left in hallways and Treatment Rooms.

I spent more than a few sleepless nights imagining living on my own in an apartment with a private bathroom, light switch and lock. Granite is good. It is significant that I speak publicly but only as far as having episodes of being non-verbal and non-responsive.

I remember my first speaking engagement at the University of Western Ontario School of Occupational Therapy Welcome to the Profession Ceremony. I was back in my seat before I finished my last paragraph. Speaking was the last thing I wanted to do but I kept doing it. I can see now the my Advocacy has been a form of Occupational Therapy but as I spoke at the Grand Opening for the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care I was wide aware of the fact that the fathers and daughters who would reside there lived with me at the old facility to the south.

To make a long story longer the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently awarded a documentary film maker as one of 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health. John Kastner made a series of films about Forensic Mental Health and Not Criminally Responsible individuals. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) John Kastner “has courageously and expertly told the stories of people who have committed crimes while mentally ill. Through his films, he is educating Canadians about the complex issues surrounding the Forensic system and giving voice to the people involved in it.”

I admonished John Kastner about speaking for Forensic clients and assuming being there is the same as being there. I assumed he figured that since he filmed the accident that he was a survivor. I’ve witnessed worse and realize Mr. Kastner was focused on similar outcomes.

I had forgiven and forgotten John Kastner but the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH); an organization that has Forensic facilities, has gone out of their way to perpetuate, promote and praise the paternalization of Not Criminally Responsible (NCRMD) individuals. Not Criminally Responsible individuals are a marginalized population but the secret is that most NCRMD individuals tell their stories every day.

We pass you in the grocery aisle. We applaud our children at the same school plays. We sit next to you at the hockey rink

Maybe making a movie about Forensic Mental Health and Not Criminally Responsible individuals living successfully in the community would be too much. Maybe that footage would humanize too much. Maybe that footage would de-stigmatize too much.

I was having a tougher winter than usual in 2014 and I was practicing a presentation I gave at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario. I was reading and re-reading to myself out loud for days. The stories I presented included some traumatic and painful scenes from my life. I was as close to suicidal as many are able to mention. I spent my monthly income on travel, lodging and food to speak to the students and faculty. Why?

So I can use my voice.

So I can demonstrate my autonomy.

So I can tell the story of a person who has “committed a crime while mentally ill.”

So I can educate “Canadians about the complex issues surrounding the Forensic system.”

“For the sake of old times.”

Mayor Matt Brown, Councillors Maureen Cassidy and Mohamed Salih and Integrity Commissioner Gregory F. Stewart

I received a $60.00 parking ticket a few weeks ago. I am blessed to be living in a new subdivision and up until a few months ago we had no sidewalks and our driveway was clay with engineered big stones. This winter my car tires froze in the ruts a couple of times. I’m still working on the property and am making use of a trailer. There are several new homes nearby and several hundred townhouses being constructed within 500 feet.

My car was partially parked on the new sidewalk and I have received notice of impeding conviction. The sidewalk is unfinished a couple of hundred feet around the corner so I’m not sure who I was endangering or inconveniencing. I always park the car in the drive as there is heavy equipment placing dust on my TV and I am cognizant of the inevitable snow plows. There are construction trailers littered along this street weeks at a time but I don’t see any fines fluttering from those windshields.

I called the city and mentioned my predicament but the lady said I had come in person to explain. I asked if she would pay for my parking fees but I think she was offended. Being institutionalized more than most of my neighbours I have an aversion to such excursions. I might wait and see what the collection agency has to say but in the meantime I have a few things to say about City Hall and company.

I am uncertain of the fairness regarding my infraction and what was dealt to the mayor for his indiscretions. For those of you unfamiliar with London Ontario, our mayor had an extramarital affair with the deputy mayor. As punishment both took a paid leave of absence.

London has an integrity commissioner who looked into the affair but nothing happened. Gregory F. Stewart from Donnelly Murphy law firm is among other things paid $250.00 per hour to investigate complaints and alleged breaches of the code of conduct for members of council. Mr. Stewart found that Mayor Matt Brown and councillor Maureen Cassidy’s affair broke council’s code of conduct but stated that any deeper investigation would only uncover “salacious details” and would be unnecessary.

I repeat: for $250.00 per hour London’s Integrity Commissioner decided while investigating possible breaches of conduct that to “investigate deeper” would only uncover “salacious details”. Hmm. But what if a complete and professional investigation actually uncovered further breaches, conflicts etc.?

Mr. Stewart has no power to punish or fine people (it’s not like he’s a bylaw officer) and as some have stated he is toothless. That needs to be fixed after we fire Gregory F. Stewart and are fully reimbursed for fraudulent fees. The next Integrity Commissioner should have integrity and hopefully balls if not brains.

I don’t think the mayor and company should be fined sixty bucks or anything cruel and unusual but what irks me is that Londoners paid for them to flirt at work. I imagine, though I haven’t investigated that Londoners paid for a few romantic meals and possibly a candle. Gregory F. Stewart’s fake fees are the chocolate on the pillow. Sweet!

Three down one to go. Mo Salih is a councillor and the newest member of the Police Services Board. He is quite popular on Twitter and fairly full of himself. With all the sexual harassment and assault claims in the news he has taken to Twitter in support of alleged victims. Great. His last troublesome Tweet basically said I believe her and her and…AND Her and HER. Great. This is worrisome. Firstly not all victims are female. Secondly as I pointed out to Mo Salih most legal systems consider the accused to be innocent until proven guilty with clear and consistent evidence.

People are being convicted by the media and the public and lives are altered if not ruined. I don’t give much credence to statements made to the media before a sworn statement is made to the authorities. The code of conduct some city officials have difficulty with includes following the letter and Spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is presumed innocence.

As a councillor making laws and holding an official and authoritative position Mo Salih has undermined the justice system. If civic leaders are finding guilt what message does the accused take away. Neighbours will be just as judgemental and prejudiced. Having Mo Salih on the Police Services Board is detrimental to justice. His position includes influencing the objectives and priorities of the London Police. Mohamed Salih is also a prominent Muslim in London and from the Sudan. Normally this is irrelevant but for newer citizens in London and or individuals with a similar faith Mo Salih is a visible example of behaviour. In essence Mr. Salih has contaminated the jury pool. If only one jurist thinks Mohamed Salih is correct or just, they may vote or influence to the detriment of justice.

I think Mohamed Salih needs to at least relinquish his position on the London Police Services Board if not his council seat. Noticing this breach of the code of conduct I wrote a letter to the Integrity Commissioner. Hopefully Mr. Stewart reads it before this. Four!

I have until the 22nd to argue or pay my fine. Maybe by then I will be the only idiot at city hall.

Take care because I don’t!

 

How Would Hitler’s Nazi’s Deal With Indigenous People’s ? “Wabi”

If Indigenous Peoples who so far seem to have evolved and migrated from Afrika were not contacted by European’s who may have departed from the same area what might have happened?

Many languages, cultures and slight genetic differences have become extinct. Some has been the result of genocide, famine, flood and appropriation.

Thanks to many individuals of various ethnicities and genders we can only wonder what Hitler might have done had he encountered an indigenous person in Algonquin territory.

“Hallo, I’m building a road. Are you busy?”

As in Afrika peoples could have survived in Canada without modern influences.

We can be ashamed of any national attempt at cultural genocide but I can be thankful for my grandfather’s military service. I did not meet the man.

I do not know who owns the land we fight over and for.

I do not know an appropriate apology for survivors of the Residential School System.

I am slightly aware of the living conditions in Attawapiskat, Ontario.

Perhaps we could pay survivors enough to give them clean water.

“Pejig”

Trigger Warning: There’s Something Wrong With the Person Telling Me Things I Don’t Want To Hear

I usually stick to Twitter because Facebook is just a place where you can watch people get murdered or raped. Unfortunately, there are a lot of disturbing things happening in the world even when your car is idling in the McDonalds drive-thru. With an awareness of the ink in my pen I will only point out a couple of the feel good ones.

Let’s start with Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Prince Henry of Wales. I don’t usually pick on kids but they seem old enough to address nations.

Malala Yousafzai is doing great brave things but she might be more successful if she acknowledged more. I realize she was shot in the head by the Taliban but the faith she fashions was an accomplice. Malala will tell you the story of her family’s apologetic neighbours telling her mom that maybe next time she will have a boy but the question is were they Taliban?

Malala will come to Canada and tell us to do more because there’s not much we can do where the problems originate. We can marvel that after all her hard work and world recognition her family acknowledged that she existed. Her story is that she was the first female whose name was written on a 300 year old family tree. If Malala was truly brave she would have grabbed the sharpie and scribbled her grandmother’s name who breastfed her father. She might have fetched a few pails of water but I don’t know the family well.

I’m just jealous because I wasn’t invited to stand beside my feminist husband who is a political drama teacher.

More recently we have been hearing from Prince Harry. Co-incidentally he has turned his grief into a mental illness while he and his brothers pretty princess are kicking off a mental health campaign. It must have been hard trying to forget about your mom with her picture splashed everywhere. Then again Prince Harry could have been living in a shack without a single photograph of Lady Diana.

I think it’s great to imagine royalty with haemorrhoids but before we crowd the gates of Buckingham Palace with sympathetic signs let’s ask some questions.

  1. Couldn’t Queen Elizabeth 2 afford a grief counsellor?
  2. Does Queen Elizabeth 2 know how to speak to a 12 year old?
  3. Can Queen Elizabeth 2 use that wonderful waving hand to hug her grandson?

If you can’t imagine the Royal Family as dysfunctional as any fine. But if you truly care about the monarchy just ignore them.

Take care because I don’t.