Monthly Archives: December 2014

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is Power by Sara Jacobovici, my guest blogger today. Thanks so   much for your input, Sara.

The definition of stigma and the history of that definition is painful.

“A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

‘the stigma of mental disorder’

synonyms: shamedisgracedishonorhumiliation 

a archaic :  a scar left by a hot iron :  brand

b :  a mark of shame or discredit :  stain <bore the stigma of cowardice>

c :  an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically :  a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”

A more modern and politically correct definition is: A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people has about something.

It’s time to tell the Emperor he has no clothes! Stigma comes from fear; fear of the unknown and fear of the familiar. This paradox and ignorance feeds stigma. When we see someone else suffering, it is too familiar. This triggers fear of the unknown;” I can be that way too!” Fear is irrational and bypasses any of our higher brain functioning. So in other words, stigma exists as a result of an irrational fear.

Learning can empower us and weaken stigma. It is our responsibility to learn more about anything that we see manifest itself as suffering in our fellow human being. Just because we are also vulnerable to that suffering does not mean that distancing ourselves, isolating the individual(s) who are suffering and cutting ourselves off from that suffering, is the solution.  On the contrary, it just makes things worse.

How can we shift the tide of stigma?

  • Start with yourself first. Take an honest look at how you see and relate to others around you who are suffering from mental illness. Do you make assumptions, avoid them or their family members, rationalize your behavior?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable?
  • Listen to these behaviors and thoughts and ask yourself what are they trying to tell you?

What do you need to learn from this?  It is the person who is suffering from the mental illness. That person is not the mental illness.

The answers can be found through further questions, questions that will connect and engage you to others and in this way help move you in the right direction.

Take a friend or someone in your neighborhood that you know who has a family member with a mental health illness out for coffee. Find out from that person the truth about mental illness. Once you have the information you need, you can begin to make choices. No one is asking you to fund research or lobby the government (although these may be ways you choose to contribute and participate), but one small change in your attitude can yield big results in decreasing the stigma that exists.

  • When you are in a group and someone begins to talk ignorantly about mental illness, quietly and respectfully point out the facts versus the myths.
  • Go back for that second cup of coffee and bring a new friend with you.
  • Volunteer at a community event for mental health awareness.

Remember knowledge is powerful, ignorance is destructive.  Be on the side of knowledge and watch how you can make a change.



How to beat the stigma of mental illness

False beliefs about mental illness can cause significant problems.

STIGMA is when someone views you in a negative way because  you have a personal trait that is a disadvantage. Negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have  mental health conditions, are common.

STIGMA can lead to discrimination and that same discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or the treatment you are receiving. It may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or even dangerous due to your mental health condition.

The harmful effects of STIGMA can include:

A reluctance to seek treatment.

A lack of understanding by family, friends and co-workers.

Far less opportunities for work  or social activities or trouble finding a place to stay.

Bullying, physical violence or harassment.

Health insurance that does not adequately cover the treatment costs for your mental illness.

The belief that you’ll never be able to succeed at certain challenges, or, that you will not be able to improve your condition.


Get treatment. Try not to let STIGMA create self-doubt and shame. STIGMA does not only come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness and that you should be able to control it without help. But, seeking psychological counseling and connecting with others with a mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.

It is not a good idea to isolate yourself as family and friends can offer you the support you need. So reach out to people you trust.

Please don’t equate yourself with your illness. YOU ARE NOT AN ILLNESS. Instead of saying ‘I’m bipolar’- say, ‘I have bipolar disorder.” Instead of calling yourself ‘a schizophrenic,’ say ‘I have schizophrenia.’

Joining a support group can only be helpful as you will come in contact with others in the same position as you find yourself and one another’s input is very comforting.

Speaking out against stigma is the surest way to get your message across. You can express your opinion at events, in letters to the editor of your local paper or on the internet. It might instill courage in others facing similar challenges and at the same time it will help educate the public about mental illness. The negative judgments of others usually stem from a lack of understanding.


Crises over the holiday period …

Slowly but surely, we learned how to avoid or diminish a disaster particularly during the festive season. We learned that it was better to speak softly and use short sentences when our son was agitated. We learned how to help him regain control when he was probably feeling terrified by the subjective experience of hearing voices giving him life-threatening commands OR, he might have been receiving messages from the paintings on the wall OR imagined that people were trying to break into his bedroom. He accused us of ‘planting microphones’ in the house to broadcast his every word and let ‘them’ know his whereabouts at any given time.’ We knew how important it was to keep calm. There were times when our son needed to be hospitalized and there were times when we persuaded him to go voluntarily.

We knew better than to threaten him, shout or criticize, which could only make the situation deteriorate. Avoiding eye contact with him was the best way to behave.

There were times when holidays came and went without incident, but far too often we needed a psychiatrist when they were away holidaying with their families. Somehow, we got by.

To all the ill people out there, I hope that you have relatively calm holidays together with relatives or friends. To your families, I hope that the New Year will bring health and happiness.


Christmas is here again …

christmas treeChristmas is here again. I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year but, I haven’t forgotten that the holidays can be lonely times. That doesn’t mean that you have to feel alone. Try and remain focused on acknowledging your needs and you’ll be surprised at how  good you can feel.

If your expectations are too high, reduce them. Call friends and ask to be included in their celebrations. Most people love having friends over so this can work. Remember that you are  not alone in feeling alone during Christmas or New Year. So, get together with others and have some fun. Create your own social group. See a movie or plan an outing with a friend. There are many people out there who are searching for a companion, you know. Or, treat yourself to a massage or do whatever you enjoy doing most. If  you can’t be with family or other lvoed ones during this time of the year, call or email them. Reach out to them and they are bound to respond. If the above don’t suit you, volunteer at a soup kitchen because there’s nothing like that place to make you realize how well off you really are. If you can afford it, take a vacation. But, if you are unable to do any of the above, buy some chocolate, get into bed with a good book or find a good movie on your computer and get through the day that way. It’s important to remember that Christmas only lasts for one day.

new year celebrations



Give your patient a glimmer of hope, please

white flowersDuring my son’s illness … paranoid schizophrenia; we met up with many psychiatrists at the various hospitals and I always felt that both my son and I were being judged. I’d been under the impression that their job was to make their patient feel safe and comfortable even though this is not an easy task.

When his psychiatrist came late for an appointment at the hospital, my son felt that his wellbeing was unimportant to the doctor. Of course there are times when a doctor cannot help being delayed, but it’s not as if he/she was called regularly to the operating theater to perform emergency surgery.

It was so difficult to make contact with my son’s psychiatrist during the many emergencies that had a habit of occurring during weekends or public holidays. So, instead of getting good advice on the phone, we had to take our son to the hospital, and if our son did not comply with the orderly on duty, another one, brandishing a syringe would creep up from behind and deliver a shot into my son’s butt. If we had decided not to take him to the hospital, what could we have done at home? He was tall, strong, and on occasion, frightening. On one occasion, a psychiatrist let slip that the staff had been warned to walk behind my son at all times, yet, they sent him home for weekends to our family consisting of teenage daughters, my husband and myself. A catch-22 situation if I ever saw one. So, what did we do? My husband used his sense of humor whenever possible, and it often worked. I was less able to do this.

At medical school, psychiatrists and psychologists are taught to be ‘rather aloof’ – the only word that comes to mind – well, that doesn’t work for their patients or for their parents. When my son needed to feel that he was human after all, aloofness made him feel alone, lonely and neglected at the very time when he needed to be shown that he was human after all. Can you imagine how it must feel to lose your mind – your sanity?  I can’t.   What am I suggesting? ….I am suggesting that the doctor take care to use an empathetic tone of voice, that the doctor consider putting a hand on his patient’s arm when he is in indescribable distress and most important of all, that the doctor leave any remnant of an argument he/she might have had with a family member before leaving for the hospital. We all  know that  personal issues should never influence professional attitudes. Easier said than done? Yes, I know that. I also know that psychiatrists are only human. BUT, you chose this profession, not me.

Doctor, if your patient is suicidal, this is not an unusual occurrence for you, but, it is to his/her parents so please be generous with empathy when imparting this information to his/her parents. Those parents are going through their own kind of hell due to their child’s mental illness and need tender loving care desperately. My son needed to feel that he was in a safe, friendly environment. Instead, it was frightening.

The patient needs to be informed about any side effects caused by the heavy meds prescribed and if he/she asks about the side effects to their sexuality, the subject should not be avoided.

As parents don’t have the emotional energy to do so, it would be so helpful to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness. You have the wherewithal if you choose to do so.

Last, but not least, give your patients a glimmer of hope p l e a s e.  Nobody can live without hope.


Loneliness … OR … Doing things alone

  loneliness  4Co-dependence has gotten a bad rap from substance abuse recovery terminology. Most people are social beings, both emotionally and biologically who live in communities because they need company. We all need company as we cannot do everything alone. We need help. Collaboration is our biggest survival skill. We would die off without it. If one is alive, odds are that you have received or been given help in one way or another at some time or another. We have the idea that we are weak and if we are unable to do things independently and that it is  a problem. But nobody, least of all successful people, don’t do every single thing alone and nor do top executives. Surgeons don’t operate alone and doctors have nurses to aid them. World leaders have helpers so independence is overrated. We need one another and should be there for each other. Do you know of anyone who does every single thing alone? I don’t, so, why do we hold ourselves to this standard? Maybe it’s a question of worth. A person might have a low sense of self-worth unless they do things alone. It might actually be a judgment against himself or herself.

 Being Lonely

 Now being lonely is totally different. Loneliness is upsetting. It can bring on a depression. Being lonely imeans that one feels isolated. It breeds negative self-identity, increases sadness and anxiety. When somebody feels lonely, that individual feels unloved. He/she remembers all the evidence pointing to this fact and for some reason their minds become empty of all the evidence against it. Loneliness makes a person think things like:- I ruin everybody’s life. I can’t call anyone because they will consider it an imposition. No one wants to hear from me. I make bad decisions. I don’t even know how to act in social situations. I am awkward. I have nothing to offer. The bottom line is; I am a dork.


How can we avoid the daily mental health triggers?

triggers, treatments and therapies 4triggers, treatments and therapies 4

It is extremely difficult for an outsider to fully understand the difficulties of a person who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. One of the difficulties are the triggers that can start an episode of mental illness. Everyone struggles with triggers as the elements of daily life bring out intense emotions and not only people with mental illness are at risk. But, how does a person push aside the mental health triggers that haunt our every move?  That depends on a person’s struggles and coping skills. For those with eating disorders, triggers can grow from the mere sight of food. For a person who self-harms, any sharp object can trigger the urge to self-injure. There is no sure way to avoid triggers. However, if one can find ways to replace those triggers with positive activities or diversions, success might move nearer. Music or writing and being surrounded by supportive people can be used as positive replacements and if actively used, the mental health triggers may not affect us as much.

mental health triggers 1                                                             Triggers 5

To drive, or not to drive, that is the question

red mazda

Our son’s reflexes were slos due to the medication he was taking, so the thought of him sitting behind the wheel was disturbing, to say the very least. During my next appointment with his psychiatrist, I asked his opinion on this sensitive subject and his reply surprised me. ‘It’s up to you and your husband to take that decision,’ he stated.

‘B … but, the medication isn’t it? Doesn’t it? I mean. Is he sufficiently alert?’

“Each case is different. Many people drive while on medication, you know. It depends. Besides, we haven’t informed the traffic authorities.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because your son might never pass a driving test again.’

‘But, how can we take such an onerous decision We aren’t trained professionals, you know?’

‘I’m sorry, but I cannot be of any help to you on this point,’ he said, ending our session and I never got to ask him the other questions I had listed.’ I drove home and found the following; Statistics show that psychiatric patients cause fewer traffic accidents than ‘normal’ people. Now this came as a surprise to me. First, it prompted me to look up NORMAL in the Random House College Dictionary; normal: conforming to the standard or common type, not abnormal, regular, natural. Not much help there. Even though we’d read that psychiatric patients cause fewer traffic accidents than so-called normal people, we decided to forgo statistics because I was unable to live in peace knowing that my son was driving in his present condition. My husband agreed and that problem was shelved for a short while. A few months later our son’s new psychiatrist told him that he could drive!

Holidays are here again … and again and again



Hanukah                                                                Christmas

hanukkah 2                                         ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Most families with chronically ill relatives dread holiday time when other families are all happy and looking forward to yet another happy get-together, while they dread holiday time. Then, at these occasions, a (mentally ill person) a consumer, is expected to eat, drink and even enjoy the family’s company plus celebrate the fact that it is a time of joy and good will.

For me, times like these bring back memories and feelings of disappointment, resentment, sadness and a host of other emotions. For my family, holidays were not good times. Sometimes my son was in a psychiatric hospital, at others he was home but barely in a stable condition. There were occasions when he had to be taken to a psychiatrist during the ‘festive season.’ Once or twice the police came for him after ‘the voices’ had urged him to break the law in one way or another, so it’s no wonder I felt that way.

What did holiday time mean to my son? When a lot was expected of him, he was able to handle himself well for a few hours only, but then he would crash as the voices only he heard got louder and more insistent. He then retreated into his inner self, got agitated and even though each sibling present took him aside for a one on one chat, it only worked for a short while. He might have felt that we all cared about him but when dinner was served, he disappeared, quite sure that we had poisoned his food. He was also unable to process the noise of loud laughter and/or snatches of conversation. It was all too much for him. There were numerous times when he refused to join us even for a short while, but stayed home alone, which ruined any enjoyment we might have had.

Some relatives treated him like a child. While it’s impossible to tell  our guests what to do, or how to behave, we managed to take measures to keep a modicum of control and reduce our patient’s anxiety at those family functions. How? I found an ally; anyone in the family who was a supporter rather than a critic. If you have a friend who is able to accompany you to a family gathering, go for it but be sure to find someone positive and focus your attention and energy on that person. Together you can decide on the limits you want to set for the patient. Because we  can’t control the way others treat our ill relative, that doesn’t mean we had to let everything that was dished out pass without comment. I knew it was okay to speak out for my son. I made sure that he was kept away from the offending person and hoped that my ally would use distraction techniques.

It helped to bring something like a game of chess to help him escape. I suggested that he go to into another room where it was quieter and If that didn’t work, someone went with him for a walk, weather permitting. All we could do was to help him to focus on what was good. Of course I worried that there might be anxiety-provoking triggers at our family celebration, we found one or two positives. In today’s world, one would make sure that he had a smartphone or an iPad handy.

As anxiety can spike at any time particularly during holiday time, an understanding of what’s happening can increase our sense of control over the situation and so decrease anxiety levels.

I tried to be positive and to smile a lot. Did it work? Sometimes but not always.


Teachers who are in a depression


This is the third and last in a series of three blogs on depression

teacherAs any teacher knows, students feast on any perceived weakness they can possibly find, especially in a new teacher. If a teacher is in a depression, it comes across to the students. Students might realize that the teacher in question is not really happy as a teacher or with the school or the education department itself. And, if that is the way a teacher appears to his/her students, they will not believe in that person as a teacher. Because teachers are only human, it makes them susceptible to depression the same as the rest of the population. They are in a catch 22 situation. Teaching requires a huge emotional input, so why shouldn’t teachers be depressed the way the rest of us can be? As a young boy in grade 5, I first held a knife and wondered what damage I could do to myself with it. I’ve had to deal with depression for a long time, and what I have learned is, that one can’t simply wish depression away. It doesn’t work that way at all.

I do believe that teaching might not be the right profession for some due to the extreme pressure and expectations involved. It is a rather rigid kind of life, particularly for a sensitive person who might overreact to pressure or to the unexpected failures which are bound to occur every day. As a result, there will be no shortage of small or large reasons to trigger a depression. I still teach although I took off a year to get myself back on track and I now love it and wouldn’t change my profession for anything.