The Stigma of Mental Illness


In a peaceful well manicured cemetery at the crossroads of Old Barrie Road and the 9th line of Oro lie the graves of my Grampa and Grandma Livingston. Buried in the same family plot, there is an unreadable name covered by mold. This is the name of my dear Uncle Lloyd, my mom’s brother.

When I was with Uncle Lloyd, life was good. When I got to see Uncle Lloyd, he always took time for me. No matter how my day was, he always made me smile.

Unknown to me, Uncle Lloyd silently suffered with mental illness. In the 1960’s there was a HUGE stigma surrounding this disease, and feeling that there was no one to talk with, nowhere to turn, in 1967 at the age of 40, he fashioned a noose on a rope and hung himself.

I was 9 years old at the time, this was my 1st death, my 1st funeral and I had tons of questions.  But no one was willing to answer anything.  In fact every picture, every possession, everything associated with Uncle Lloyd was removed.  His name never came up in conversation again. It was as if….he never existed.

Fast forward a few years to 1973. I was 15 at the time and my dad died suddenly of a heart attack. In the years that followed, my mom outwardly seemed very strong. She went out to work for the 1st time since getting married, got her drivers license at 45, even joined a bowling league. But about 4 years later things changed, and did not seem right with mom. I said “Mom, are you okay?” She said 3 words I will never forget, “I need help”. We (immediate family) got her to see her doctor who more or less dismissed her problems as “all imaginary”, and “all in her head”. The doctor sent her home with a prescription of sleeping pills, which unfortunately Mom used a few days later as an instrument to try and take her own life. It was very close, but she survived, and mom was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the old RVH with severe depression.  She spent the next 3 months there receiving treatment. I visited often on my own, and away from the hospital I wanted to talk about it out SO badly….but friends, neighbours, co-workers all seemed to want to keep their distance.

This past Tuesday there was this #BellLetsTalk campaign. To me it was a wonderful breath of fresh air. With 6 time Canadian Olympic metal winner Clara Hughes (who herself has struggles with bouts of mental illness) as the spokesperson, over $ 5 million was raised, but just as important, it brought greater awareness to hopefully break the stigma surrounding this disease.

Statistics show that at least 1 in 5 people suffer with mental illness in their lifetime. Pretty much each day can be a bit of a struggle for myself, but I am very fortunate. I am able to keep on top of my mental health for the most part with diet and exercise.

After over 25 years of marriage my wife can read me well. She will tell me when I need to get out for a bike ride, go for a run or “get lost in the woods for a day or 2” to have some space to work things out. When the family gave me a gym pass for Christmas, it shows their great love for me. They want me around awhile!!! The times that I do not want to do the things that I love to do, these are the times are the times I desperately need to do them.

For some people exercise and eating healthy may not be enough, and prescription medication may be required. There is absolutely no shame in that. For 10 years my mom was on medication, and it enabled her to live a normal life.  With the monitoring by her mental health specialist she was able to cut back on her medications, and eventually be taken off them. 

Knowing 1st hand “the other side”, I really try to bring hope and encouragement to others.  It is not easy when it is a daily struggle yourself to keep on top of my own mental health.  But you just don’t know if that person beside you is suffering in silence.
 
Mental illness even nowadays is very difficult to medically diagnose. If a person says “I need help”, we really need to take them seriously. Who knows, you may just save a life.

Sincerely with love,

Carl
A great website to learn more about mental illness is http://www.mymentalhealth.ca/Home/Learn/tabid/836/Default.aspx
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9 comments

  1. Great post! I am sorry for your losses at such young ages. It sounds like you have such a wonderful family, these days, such a healthy, loving dynamic is not always the case. Again, great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Emily! I am really, really blessed with my family. They are #1 in my books! 🙂

    Like

  3. I also wrote a post recently titled, The stigma of mental illness. I’m glad you and your family openly realize its just like any other disease that needs management tools in place 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much Megan for your support and encouragement! I really appreciated your article, very well written. It is so important to get the word out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m so happy you shared this with me Carl! I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with the stresses Mental Health causes. I’m glad you have a wife and family that really helps and understand you. That makes all the difference. It is shocking how the acceptance towards Mental Illness has really changed. It’s not 100% but it’s much better! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chelsea, thank you for taking the time to drop by and read, and for your caring and understanding comment.
      It really means a lot.

      Acceptance towards Mental Illness really has changed, much of it has been I would say in the past 15 years. We still have a ways to go though.
      Sincerely hope you have a great weekend! 🙂

      ~Carl~

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Very sorry for your loss regarding your uncle. That is a true tragedy for him, your family and you as a child. I have mental illness in my family, too and it has made me very sensitive to the signs and also any acts that might slow or prevent it. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

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