A special thanks to our contributor with this entry. Sharing lived experiences is a great way to educate others and reduce stigma surrounding mental health.
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“Never give up on someone with a mental illness.
When ‘I’ becomes ‘We’ – Illness becomes wellness”
–Shannon L. Alder
I have an anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed in my late teens, but I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can recall. I also have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder – the doctors aren’t quite certain which.
Like many who live and struggle with mental illness, addiction reared its ugly head not long after I was diagnosed. Or… maybe the drugs and alcohol came before the diagnosis. It’s difficult to tell.
I remember waking up in an isolation room. White walls. A metal toilet. Bright fluorescent lights. My belt missing, my pockets emptied, and my memory hazy.
I was seventeen then. And already, alcohol had become a means of coping with my symptoms.
“You’re quite ill,” the Psych Emerg doctor told me. But, I didn’t understand. I lacked insight – common in people who struggle with serious mental illness. I had little understanding of what I was going through. I was confused, scared, and angry.
Education wasn’t offered in the early stages of my illness. I was slapped with a label, given a prescription, and sent on my way. It would take fifteen years, and over twenty hospitalizations, to learn to cope with my mental illness without the crutch of drugs and alcohol.
It’s been shown that, when treated early, the prognosis of a mental health challenge is relatively positive. But, treatment is more than medication. Treatment, as it should be, includes counselling, cognitive and behavioural therapies, relapse prevention education and more.
Education, simply put, is a form of prevention. And given a strained mental healthcare system here in British Columbia, prevention would free up resources so that they may be allocated more strategically. We need only glance at today’s headlines to know that we aren’t doing a good enough job at tackling mental health issues in BC.
There are few, if any, counselors, or psychologists on our wards. And psychiatrists and nurses are often too busy to educate patients on their mental health. We have patients wandering the halls, unoccupied and bored. We have patients using drugs and alcohol to fill time while in hospital. And what we’ve created is a revolving door syndrome – patients leave hospital only to return… repeatedly.
Patients should have the right to access various treatment services while in hospital. Medication compliance is compulsory when involuntarily hospitalized… but attending groups is frequently unenforced. While in hospital, a patient’s treatment needs to be multi-faceted, and with a doctor’s approval, patients should have access to any supplementary services they require.
It’s true, I’ve learned a great deal from my treatment team members, but ultimately, I was self-educated.
Knowledge is power.
I have the power to live.