Stigma on Campus

How students’ initiatives are helping to end it

by Gabrielle Lesage, Summer Student

As an individual, I understand how stressful and overwhelming it is to expose oneself completely to others. As a young adult in society, I know how daunting it is to show our true selves to the world. As a university student, I comprehend why it is difficult for a person such as myself to open up and let others know about certain private things I am going through. When I was a member of the organizing committee of Mental Health and Wellness Week at the beginning of the year at Bishop’s University, one thing that I remember someone mentioning that stuck with me was that students were embarrassed to go see the counsellor or the school psychologist to discuss issues about their mental health because they were embarrassed about what others would think about them; these students would deprive themselves of services that would benefit them because they felt a sort of shame. This stayed with me, even to this day, because I truly believe that one should not prevent themselves from benefitting from services that can help them because of the fear of the judgment of others.

Students in campuses all over Canada are working to make this change. Jack.Org, a youth lead organization that aims to end the stigma associated with mental illnesses and promote mental health, has Chapters all over the country, with students coming together and planning initiatives in order to normalize mental health and mental illness. These students are working hard to end stigma, and by doing so are changing the way students perceive various mental health issues such as anxiety. The following are some examples of what these student leaders are doing at their schools:

  1. Bishop’s University: A group of dedicated students organized a Build Your Own Exam Survival Pack during the final examination period in the month of April. Students who attended the event had the chance to make their own stress ball and fill up a bag with goodies like crayons, erasers, and candy. The organizers even encouraged students to build packs for their friend or roommate, and many did! The event was a success, and students thanked the Jack.Org UBishop’s Chapter for putting together an event that brought students together and said “Many people go through exam anxiety, and other issues as well, and that is okay’ you are not alone”. Needless to say, the event was a hit and will be done again during each end of semester examination periods. Their Facebook page can be found HERE.
  2. York University: The members of Jack.Org YorkU created a “Wall of Awesome” in one of the school walls. Students were encouraged to post up a post-it note with what they feel is awesome, and also words of encouragement for others. This initiative was a hit, with many students participating and posting notes. Their Facebook page can be found HERE.
  3. King’s University: At the beginning of the school year, the school’s Jack Chapter planned a stand in one of the school’s lobbies that was all about New Year’s resolutions. These ranged from taking care of yourself, to helping others, and resolutions involving mental health. Students also had the chance to learn tips on how to manage stress. Their Facebook page can be found HERE.

There are many student-lead initiatives that are organized all over Canada, and it is encouraging and inspiring to see that these students are all working towards a common goal; to end the stigma associated with mental illness. The hard work that these students do demonstrates the passion and drive that young people have to make their campus, and the world, a better place. Perhaps one day students will no longer be embarrassed to walk in the offices of the student counsellor and school psychologist with fear of judgment of others. This would revolutionize campuses all across Canada, and even around the world. Because in the end, don’t we want a world without stigma?

How the voice of one can change the lives of many

By Gabrielle Lesage, AMI’s Summer Student

In the past we can see how much of an impact a group of individuals can have on society. Take for example the Underground Railroad; without collaboration and team effort it would not have worked. Helping individuals on that scale would be almost impossible without people working together for the common goal. On the other hand, we have also seen how the influence of one person can change the lives of many. Take for example Gandhi. His method of non-violent protest led a nation to its independence. The voice of one can amplify the voices of countless individuals who might not have been heard before.

You may be asking yourself what all of this has to do with mental health. In reality, it has everything to do with it! Although services for mental health issues have progressed significantly, there are still some problems that need to be addressed. More free services for those who cannot afford to see a psychologist and ending stigma are just some of the issues that need to be fought for. How can we tackle this? By speaking up.

One of the most significant and important changes in mental health history is the work of Philippe Pinel. During the later half of the 18th century, Pinel pointed out the injustice and inhumane treatment of people who were in what were called insane asylums. These patients were treated abhorrently, some being put in ghastly contraptions and chained to walls. Pinel saw that this was absolutely wrong, and spent part of his life eliminating the use of barbaric methods to hold patients down and trap them. Instead of using techniques that were regularly used in these institutions such as bleeding and blistering, Pinel used a type of therapy in which he was able to speak with the patient and came up with what is known as moral therapy. This revolutionized psychology and psychiatry.

If Pinel had not spoken up, what would have happened? Would insane asylums still exist? Perhaps more people would have suffered from the horrible treatment that asylums would inflict on these individuals. In this case, the voice of one person changed the lives of countless people.

In the end, the message I am trying to convey is to not be afraid to speak up about what you believe in. Although you may think that your voice is not strong enough to change the lives of those around you, remember that every movement starts with one idea. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “it’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

The power of words, and why I think labels should stop


By Gabrielle Lesage, AMI’s Summer Student

Since the dawn of time, humans have given names to the things around them to identify what they are, such as tree, plant, bird, and fire. As time progressed, they also began giving names to social concepts, such as friend, husband, and wife. This isn’t a bad thing, for how are we supposed to understand the world if we do not convey their meanings in words? Naturally, when it came to medical and mental conditions we also have given names, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, many people in our society are using these terms very loosely and without consideration: for example, “You are being so OCD! Cut it out!”, or “He is such a schizo!”, and even “Get over it, everybody has anxiety!”.

It saddens me that in our day and age, when we have a plethora of knowledge at the touch of a button or the start of a book to understand the implications of a mental health issue on an individual, we use words related to a mental illness in such inconsiderate terms. Is it ignorance? Shallowness? Or are we letting people use these terms by not standing up and calling it out on them? It is a difficult situation, and many people would argue for both sides of the spectrum. Some people would say that immediate and grand action needs to be taken in order to stop this, and others would counter that we cannot what control what others say. I can say that I agree with both these statements, but I have a different opinion. I believe it is the small, but impactful, actions that will get us to where we hope to be, to be in a society where these words will not be used.

Personally, the most common place I hear people use words related to a mental illness to describe someone or their actions is at school: high school, in CEGEP, and even sometimes in university! I am not saying that adults don’t use this kind of language; many adults do, but I feel that students have less of an understanding of the impact that the words they use have on people. Their ignorance and obliviousness is what I believe needs to be targeted.

How can we do this? This would be no small feat, and we wouldn’t be able to reach and change everyone. How do we tackle such a sensitive topic? I believe it all starts at a young age. If we normalize mental illnesses and explain to children what they are and that words really do have an effect on someone, then I believe they will have more chances of growing up to be more understanding, less judgmental, and more aware of what they say to others. Parents, siblings, teachers, staff members, and members of the community have the power to shape this. Some might say this is a futile task and that children don’t listen, but I believe we have the power of change that we significantly underestimate. By using our knowledge, we can shape the lives of these children, and, in the end, of the future.

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The Goods on Hoarding

By Gail Adams

Hoarding is the accumulation of objects to the degree that it prevents the use of living space as it was originally intended. A mild hoarding problem may involve only minor inconveniences but in more severe cases the clutter may completely cover counters, stovetops, tables, chairs, sofas, beds and so on. Stuff can easily fill sinks and bathtubs and may also cover the floor so that it is impossible to move around the home without stepping on things. Only a small portion of the objects hoarded ever get used. In addition, these possessions are usually very disorganized, making it difficult to locate something when it is needed. Some of the items commonly hoarded are newspapers, magazines, books, common household objects, clothing, craft supplies, mechanical parts, electronics, furniture, and sentimental items.

Hoarders have great difficulty parting with the objects they hoard. They have exaggerated beliefs about the importance or usefulness of these objects and have minimal insight into the negative consequences of the hoarding which include:

– Not being able to find things when needed
– Not being able to access items that are needed due to other things being in the way
– Inconvenience due to unusable living space
– Time and/or money that is spent acquiring objects
– A reduced social life due to an inability to have visitors and/or the discomfort felt by visitors
– Health risks including fires, falling, respiratory problems due to mould and/or dust, unsanitary conditions
– The difficulties in getting repairs done in the home
– Feelings of being out of control, overwhelmed, stuck, hopeless, helpless, anxious, depressed

1. What are some of the early signs of hoarding?

Hoarding is a problem that tends to increase with severity over time, but some of the warning signs are accumulating objects that most people would consider useless, a reluctance to part with possessions that have outlived their usefulness, and/or anxiety about someone touching or removing possessions.

2. What are some of the reasons why people start to hoard?

Hoarding is a complex problem and there are many different types of objects that are hoarded and many different reasons why they are hoarded. There may be inherited characteristics that predispose someone to develop a hoarding problem under certain circumstances such as a difficult childhood or a traumatic experience, but at its core hoarding involves distorted beliefs about the importance of ones possessions. A hoarding problem may be further complicated by problems with focusing on tasks, prioritizing, decision-making, perfectionism, lacking confidence in memory, and accepting limits. Here are some reasons why objects are hoarded:

– Fear that the objects may be needed at some point in the future
– Having plans for using the objects that are rarely realized
– Believing the objects represent potential opportunities that can’t be passed up
– Feeling that discarding the objects may be wasteful
– Fear of making the wrong decision
– Feeling that the objects are all unique in some way
– Emotional attachment to the objects
– Feelings of safety, security, control

In addition, acquiring new objects may be pleasurable or exciting and may be an escape from uncomfortable thoughts.

3. How do you know when to get help?

It is time to seek professional help if you have tried self-help techniques without much success; if other mental health problems such as excessive anxiety or depression get in the way; if you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or hopeless; or if you don’t know where to start or what strategy to use. A professional can provide a much needed objective view of the situation that is difficult for a friend or family member to attain. A professional can also help with motivation and can provide understanding, compassion, support and encouragement that can greatly increase the rate of recovery.

4. Do hoarders realize that they are hoarding?

Many people with hoarding problems are well aware that they are accumulating excessive amounts of possessions in their homes but are unable to change their behaviour. As a result they may suffer from intense anxiety or shame or may fall into a depression. Others may not be aware of how serious the problem is and may deny or minimize the problem. It is important for family members to understand that this denial is common and is a part of the distorted thinking involved with this disorder.

5. Tell us about some of the treatments that can lead to recovery.

One strategy that is definitely not recommended is a cleanout of the home by a person other than the one with the hoarding problem, even if the hoarder is willing. This process does not address the problematic thinking and behaviour involved in hoarding. It is important that the person with the hoarding problem makes changes in thoughts, feelings, and actions towards possessions in order to prevent the problem from starting up again.
Family members are often tempted to remove possessions without the knowledge or consent of the hoarder, but if the hoarder suspects that this is happening he/she may feel violated and threatened and is likely to feel an increased need to control his/her possessions. In addition, resentment, distrust, and anger towards the family members may result.

The treatment that has shown the most success with hoarding is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This treatment addresses the problematic thinking involved in hoarding, and teaches how to sort and let go of possessions, think more clearly about possessions, and control urges to acquire.

A helpful book about hoarding is “Buried in Treasures” by David F. Tolin, Randy O. Frost, and Gail Steketee. This book explains what hoarding is, how someone may end up with a hoarding problem, and includes a self-help program that may help those who have a relatively mild hoarding problem. It also contains advice for friends and family members on how to best help someone with a hoarding problem. This book is available for members from the AMI-Quebec library. There is also a therapist’s treatment manual that goes with this book.

A new book on hoarding is now available in French: “Entre monts et merveilles: Comment reconnaître et surmonter l’accumulation compulsive” by Kieron O’Connor, Marie-Ève St-Pierre-Delorme, and Natalia Koszegi.

The ideal treatment for hoarding is CBT with a therapist who has experience in treating hoarding, but since such therapists may be difficult to find, a good second option is a CBT therapist who is willing to read a treatment manual available for hoarding and to follow that treatment program.

In Montreal there is a free treatment program available for hoarding from the Fernand Seguin Center under their OCD research program.

Professional organizers can be helpful, but since they are not mental health professionals they are not likely to be able to provide as complete a treatment as a CBT therapist.

Click HERE for resources that can help.

RESILIENCY – Using one’s Strength to Overcome the Challenges of Caregiving

Resiliency is an ingredient to be encouraged in a caregiver given the kind of challenges she faces vis-a-vis caring for a family member, neighbour, or friend living with mental illness. This means an ability to bounce back from difficult situations that inevitably arise when caring for a mentally ill family member.

Obstacles of external stress for caregivers which may challenge resiliency

  • Attitude of professionals
  • Failure to provide information and support
  • Misuse of confidentiality
  • Refusal to communicate
  • Failure to include family in the care
  • Attitudinal rejection
  • Blaming family
  • Societal (stigma which is transferred to the care giver)
  • Cultural attitudes towards families and ill members
  • Deficits of service system
  • Rejection; ignorance; negative expectancies of recovery


Obstacles of internal stress for caregivers which may challenge resiliency

Situational (home environment) feelings of loss, sorrow, grieving, empathic pain for ill member, negative effects on siblings; coping with assaultive and aberrant behaviour; fears for ill member’s future; ill member’s rejection of treatment.

Each of these can result in feelings of guilt, frustration, blame, anger, sadness, confusion and grief in the caregiver.

Suggestions to support resiliency 

  • Make it a priority to care for yourself
  • Be aware of what feeds you emotionally, physically, spiritually
  • Make a to do list and stick to it
  • Ask for help and shift priorities or even say no from time to time.
  • Set aside time for yourself without feeling guilty


Relieving caregiver burden
-concrete steps to consider for one’s self and from the society at large.

The following is an acronym to help caregivers choose activities which could help relieve their burden and support resiliency.

R….Recreation. Rest. Resources. Resiliency.
E….Education. Escape. Entertainment.
S….Support. Self help groups. Empowerment. Separation. Solitude. Set goals.
P…..Privacy. Participation. Pleasure.
I…..Information. Independence. Inclination.
T…..Talking with friends, relatives, colleagues, professionals.
E…..Empathy.

Respite refers to any activity which can relieve caregivers periodically from the stress of their usual caregiving responsibilities.

It is important however to keep in mind that each situation is different and one way does not fit all. Each care giver has to assess her own strengths and unique universe, and act accordingly.

In a nutshell my suggestion to caregivers is to maximize your quality of life in order to feel the rewards of caregiving, avoid depression, and therefore have more to share with loved ones.

Moira Edwards. N; M,Ed;  Psychotherapist

 

REFERENCE

LEFLEY H.P. Family caregiving in mental illness. Sage Publications, London, 1966