Fredi Magazine Spring 2016 / Volume 2 Issue 1 - Page 41

E very so often in life we are confronted with di cult questions. Struggling to come up with clear answers, we often convince ourselves to stop asking these questions. hen it comes to mental health and addiction, di cult questions seem to be the only questions available right now. e must fight the impulse to give up on these questions for it is these very questions that are a pre-requisite to progress. ith this in mind, we explore a tough question that currently faces the mental health community an we educate the public such that weakness is no longer seen as the cause of mental illness and addiction, while encouraging those suffering to be strong and courageous in their fight to heal themselves » STRENGTH VS. WEAKNESS Educating the public is an art. efore even beginning to inform, the first step in the education process is the monumental task of addressing the misinformation and misperception that firmly forms the basis of the collective understanding. ichael owlett, the hair on the oard of Directors at Healthy Minds Canada, writes: “Most Canadians don’t realize the extent of the real problem we face in this country, not only in mental health but also addictions and long term care.” This understanding, or rather misunderstanding, is particularly stubborn when it comes to mental illness and addiction because the sheer scope of misinformation is so pervasive that it has weaved its way into the very fabric of our social dialogue quite simply, the language we have grown accustomed to using is rooted in misperception. Not surprisingly, many of the key proponents of mental health today are engaged in spirited public education campaigns aimed at altering the language we use. Howlett explains, “Mental Health is somewhat new to us all so education helps us to understand.” The thrust of many of these campaigns usually centres around the notion that mental illness and addiction are NOT a product of weakness. The idea behind this shift is clear: The root to acceptance and care is through compassion and the public’s appetite for compassion is simply not stimulated by weakness. In fact, weakness often incites blame which sadly washes away the road to compassion. Public perception is such that mental illness and addiction can be directly attributed to the sufferer something they failed to do, or something they were too weak to overcome and control. So the reasoning is sound – the public must be made to see that those a icted with mental health concerns are suffering from an illness – they are sick not weak – a phrase made popular by Michael Landsberg’s powerful new platform. But what does this shift in language away from weakness do to the actual patient suffering from mental health concerns? Put differently, does this shift in language conflict with any of the important messages needed by those suffering? "IN ANY ILLNESS, STRENGTH AND COURAGE IS WHAT GETS US THROUGH." - MICHAEL HOWLETT or starters, what is the message to anyone suffering Howlett notes, “In any illness, strength and courage is what gets us through, and mental illness is no different. o doubt there are many facets of the message that change in varying degrees depending on the patient – however one essential point always remains: There is no way to convalesce from addiction and mental illness without strength and courage on the part of those suffering. owlett says, Strength is a necessary attribute in helping any person with problems, sometimes we just have to help them find it. edicine and therapy are critical aids in this process but they are not replacements for strength and courage on the part of the sufferer. owlett notes, Patients must be helped to find the inner strength to help themselves. The point is, getting better and staying better is not something given to you, it is something you must courageously fight for and ultimately take for yourself. There is a necessarily prescriptive element of action in all treatment and anything that turns the sufferer into a totally passive agent, necessarily impedes the road to wellness. ith this, we once again arrive at the tough question we started with. an we educate the public such that weakness is no longer seen as the cause of mental illness and addiction, while encouraging those suffering to be strong and courageous in their fight to heal themselves The point is, educating the public cannot come at the expense of rendering the patient helpless. Since we know we must continue to empower the patient, then the question really is, will the public still heed the message that the patient is not to be blamed while we encourage those suffering to be strong fredi spring 2016 • 41