This past weekend, I was invited to speak in a panel discussion near Washington D.C. It was a fascinating discussion on mental health and mental illness. The panel was moderated by Romeo Smith and my fellow speakers were Christine Marr, a therapist from DC Holistic Psychotherapy and Natasha Paris St. Armand, a therapist and etiquette trainer.
I’m a little exhausted from the whirlwind weekend so I am not going to go into too much detail about the conference, except to say that it was a really productive and fulfilling conversation. It was interesting to get the perspective of mental health professionals and hear from the “other side.” It was also refreshing and heartwarming to see such passionate individuals who truly care about making a difference for people with mental health issues. They talked a lot about their approach to treatment that seems to be truly evidence-based, which is reassuring. I captured most of the event on Facebook Live so check it out!
The one insight that I gleaned from the event was that mental health and mental illness mean such different things to different people. As someone living with a mental illness, I think about this all the time. What does it mean to have a mental illness? It means wearing a mask every day, faking a smile and trying to put your best foot forward and pretend nothing is wrong so that you can function like a “normal” adult. Living with a mental illness means feeling like you are unsure about who you really are, what your identity is. Does your mental illness define you? Are you more than your mental illness? What about your behaviour is your mental illness and what is your own personality? Sometimes, the symptoms can be so severe that living with a mental illness can mean living in a real-life nightmare that has no escape. It can feel never-ending and a constant battle. Living with a mental illness can mean feeling like you are trying to breathe underwater or paddling upstream. It means knowing that your mental illness will likely affect you forever.
It means knowing that your mental illness will likely affect your physical health. In Maryland, a Medicaid study found that people with both mental health and substance use issues are 8 to 15 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital for medical reasons—like sepsis, diabetes, congestive heart failure—than people without those conditions. People diagnosed with serious mental illness — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression — die 20 years early, on average, because of a combination of lousy medical care, smoking, lack of exercise, complications of medication, suicide, and accidents.
It also means living with an illness that is often seen as a personal fault or a weakness. Mental illness is often seen as being unreal or just “in your head”. Did you know Abraham Lincoln had severe depression, or melancholy as it was called in the 19th century? In 1841, he wrote a letter to Sarah Speed, his law partner’s sister, saying that “a tendency to melancholy is a misfortune, not a fault.”
Having a mental illness means being stigmatized as being more violent, when people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. Having a mental illness means being stigmatized in the workforce. It is often thought that people with mental health issues cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job. Whereas, most often people with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees.
As you can see, having a mental illness means so much and more. It’s unique for every person, but this is what it means to me.
So without further ado, here are some photos from the trip! After the panel discussion, I had a fun Sunday exploring the city and seeing the sights. It was beautiful!
The Holocaust MuseumOh, Canada!Random statueMy gorgeous sister and rock! She flew all the way to D.C from Montreal to meet me there for the event. She is truly a wonderful support and really helps me thrive with my mental illness. Mulder and Scully, are you there?It’s a beautiful building even if it’s owned by a reprehensible man.