Youth and Mental Health 101

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination

Videos


First person experience

These videos help us understand the stigma surrounding mental illness.

These videos can be found at teenmentalhealth.org/live/understanding-stigma.


Stella (6:51)

Stella talks about her experience with bipolar disorder.

Text: Stella’s story

Stella: My name is Stella. I’m a fine art photographer. And I’m the artist-in-residence for the website, teenmentalhealth.org. I work with youth who are in the hospital to make photography projects. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 20 years old. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder where the sufferer experiences either very elevated moods, where they have grandiose feelings, a lot of self-confidence, speak very quickly, get a lot done, don’t need a lot of sleep or food. Or they go through these depressive episodes where it’s very difficult to function, it’s hard to leave the house, it’s hard to get out of bed. It’s really, you know, life is not enjoyable anymore. And people with bipolar disorder swing between these two extremes.

Text: Bipolar disorder affects 1 in 100.

Stella: I stopped going to class at school. I just went to the school so my parents thought I was going and sat in the library and read Chekhov. I started to cut myself because I didn’t know how to deal with the feelings of pain, and I found that if I cut myself, at least I was able to get through my day. It can be the absolute worst thing in the world when you’re either really depressed or you’re too elevated, because that’s not very comfortable either, to have really racing thoughts, an inability to stop doing things, an inability to sleep. All these ideas is actually kind of exhausting, physically and mentally. It does feel like you’re trapped because since the disease is in your mind, like, it’s very hard to remove yourself from your mind. It’s like you’re in a prison in your head. So, you know, it’s, sort of, it’s heaven and hell. So I went to see a new psychiatrist in the adult system. I got the right diagnosis after four years of basically only being medicated for my depression, but not my mania. It was such a relief to be able to put a name on it. And then if I have a name for it, maybe, you know, I could make it better. But it was also very sad because I was like, okay, this isn’t just a depressive episode. This is going to be something I’ll have for the rest of my life.

Youth who want to recover from bipolar disorder need a multifaceted treatment. They need their talk therapy. They need medication. They need social supports. They need some sort of outlet, whether that be art or sports. They need something like that, that makes them want to keep going. I think early education is a really huge key. If I had known about bipolar disorder, if I had known the symptoms, if I had known the symptoms of major depression, if I had known the long-term implications that self-harm can have on your life, I think things could have been quite a bit different. Maybe I would have caught it earlier, or my family would have caught it earlier, or my teachers would have caught it earlier. When, really, I wasn’t treated until I was at rock bottom, until I couldn’t go on anymore. So I really think early education and early intervention are the keys.

Although it is a chronic illness, it’s a very treatable illness. And a lot of people live successfully with bipolar disorder. The only reason you don’t hear about it is because of the stigma. Being treated differently, primarily by medical professionals, because of my mental illness—being treated like less of a person, being treated like it’s not as important. I have a lot of scars on my arms and some people have made some kind of cruel comments about that. But what I find the most stigmatizing is when they stare at me, and they stare at the scars, and they’re clearly staring at me, and they don’t ask. They don’t give me a chance to justify that, or explain to them why I am that way. And I would really like the opportunity to just explain it, rather than have them stare at me and make assumptions about who I am.

I do believe that our ideas about mental illness are changing. And a good example of this is the youth against stigma coffeehouses we’ve been doing. Ten, 20 years ago, this kind of stuff would have been really shut away and now we’re in a public cafe, putting up artwork that explicitly about mental health. It’s explicitly about dealing with it, and the dark side of it, and, you know, recovery as well. And it’s in a public venue. That would have never happened, not all that long ago. So, I’d love to see what we’re doing just, you know, keep going.

One of the better things I’ve seen come out of sort of the coffeehouses is there was an individual that I worked with when she was in the hospital. She talked about how her sister didn’t really understand, and she felt very isolated. She lived out of the city, lived in a small town. And then I saw her bring her sister to one of the coffeehouses, and she was taking her around the room, and she showed her the person who actually made the artwork that we put up on the wall. And she was showing her sister, look I made this, and this is how I feel about this, and showed her all the other work. And they both stayed and watched the show together. And for once, the mentally ill person who feels so isolated was able to say, “Well come into my world. Come be part of my experience.” When usually it’s, sort of, everybody else going, “Come out of that world, understand what it’s like to be normal.” In the future, I’d like to be able to do more art shows. I’d like to be able to make more work about mental illness. I’d like to be able to organize more group shows and have this youth against stigma coffeehouse movement that we do become part of a larger movement.

In a stigma-free free world, the youth that I work with would have way fewer barriers to getting well than they do now. In a stigma-free world, it would be equal opportunity for people with mental illness to get better and to have productive lives and to be respected.

Text: “I am a person. Not a diagnosis” — Stella

We would like to thank Stella for sharing her story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

Luke (5:56)

Luke talks about his experiences with depression and his suicide attempt.

Text: Luke’s story

Luke: I’m Luke and I’m 26 years old. I work full-time. I really like hiking, biking, swimming. I have attention deficit disorder. People with ADD have problems focusing, paying attention, staying on task. The thing with ADD, it’s your brain chemistry, so it’s always present. But it was starting to be like more problematic in junior high and stuff like that. I, kind of, got to the point where I was like, I don’t think most people’s brains work like this. And so I did an online test, I scored really high for ADD. And then I saw a psychiatrist who actually gave me the diagnosis. We found a medication and stuff that helped work for me.

It’s natural for people to be sad in their lifetime, but depression, it’s always with you. It kind of like, hangs over you like a blanket. And even times where you should be having so much fun, you’re being with your friends and stuff like that, you still feel it tugging at you, and just kind of weighing you down, and you can’t really enjoy your life. And so I started to go into a bit of depression. It was probably in my teens when I realized I wasn’t, you know, heterosexual. I grew up in a very small town, and people just didn’t have enough exposure. So I think a lot of those negative stereotypes just continued to circulate. And so I had to, kind of, suppress any of those emotions.

So being gay in a small town made my depression worse because I was already kind of going through it. Being gay and being depressed are independent of each other. I just happen to have both. I was feeling really isolated. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to turn to. I was getting bullied in school. But even still, I kept it on the inside a lot. And I didn’t talk to many people about it. Some people thought, you know, I should just be able to get over it, just suck it up and move on. And it’s just easier said than done. You can’t just suck it up. If it was that easy, then I would have done it. And I don’t know. I was just kind of always afraid to go to other people for help. And I always wanted to just, kind of, do things on my own. I just thought was a sign of weakness if you had to ask someone for help, which I later learned in life is totally the wrong way to go about things.

I didn’t really see things getting better. I thought it’d be better to not exist than to feel like that. And many people didn’t realize how bad things were for me, and that I was actually seriously contemplating suicide, that I was a threat to myself.

Text: Suicide is a leading cause of death in young people.

Luke: I was 17 and I tried to commit suicide. I was hospitalized for two weeks. That’s when people started intervening my life and realized how bad things were for me. I didn’t start medication right away, but then eventually I did because I thought I was getting better, but not as fast as I wanted to be.

Medication: It’s not a cure, but it definitely helps. It helps me reach my potential. Whereas before, I’m just too scattered and not able to stay on task, not able to get motivated. And I think it’s good that people aren’t so willing to put their kids on medication. But it really helps to know that people have support and they have people that can they can turn to, and just to have someone listen helps a lot. If you go to your family doctor, talk about it. Maybe you start seeing a psychiatrist or therapist. Maybe medication, if your doctor thinks that’s an appropriate solution for you. But don’t just let it go untreated.

Text: Thoughts about suicide? A doctor can help.

Luke: Sometimes I’ll hear people just saying I was so crazy or whatever, making jokes about you know, bipolar disorder or things like that. People say “emo kid” or things like that. And the word emo comes from emotional. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that I have emotions. It’s part of being human, and people are talking more about it. It’s all about communication. The more people talk about it, the less stigma there’s going to be. And that’s why I’ve kind of chosen to share my story.

I went on medication and I was on medication for a few years, and then I felt like I was in a good enough place to come off of it. And so I did with help from my doctor, and I’m doing so much better. I don’t feel like I need medication for depression anymore. Like I said, sometimes, you know, I go through a rough patch or whatever, but that’s part of being human.

Text: We would like to thank Luke for sharing his story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

Laura (6:33)

Laura talks about her experience with schizophrenia and the stereotypes about mental illness.

Text: Laura’s story

Laura: My name is Laura and I’m finishing off my masters in drama therapy. And I am also in theatre, and do performance and spoken word and write plays, and put them on actually—often related to mental health advocacy kind of stuff.

Schizophrenia is a type of disorder where you often have positive symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, like hearing things that aren’t there or thinking things that aren’t based in reality. Or the negative symptoms, which is often not being able to feel very much or very intensely, having sort of a flat gaze, having an inability to communicate very well. And the cognitive symptoms are just feeling really slowed down intellectually because of the whole process.

Text: Sometimes people with schizophrenia don’t believe they are sick.

Laura: Psychosis is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. That’s basically when you have a break from reality, and you often will hear things or see things or feel things that aren’t there. And you’ll have thoughts that aren’t based in reality, either. I first started hearing music that wasn’t there. I was on the bus and I was going to an appointment, and I heard this beautiful opera-type music. And then after about 10 minutes of listening to it, I realized that there was no source of this music. And then I started hearing voices. And then I stopped having emotion. And I stopped being able to really think or feel, or read or write, or understand when people were talking. I was terrified. I was really scared. I told some of my friends. Two of my good friends stuck around. Two of my other good friends couldn’t deal with it and they, sort of, stopped talking to me. So that was hard. That was a really hard time. One of the hardest things for me was losing my ability to function the way other people my age could function for a while. And having any kind of faith that that would return was really hard, especially because a lot of the information out there is quite negative. However, it tends to be quite outdated, and a lot of really important studies have been done that show that people have a very high chance of recovering, especially if they get treatment early.

Text: Schizophrenia usually starts between the ages of 16 to 30.

Laura: I went to see doctor after doctor here, until I finally got to the early psychosis program, where they identified it as a psychosis. And I was eventually given the label of schizophrenia. And I was given antipsychotic medication, which made the hallucinations and delusions, the strange thinking, and all of the seeing and hearing things, those kinds of things, they went away. But it was the confusion and the lack of the ability to think or feel, which took a lot longer to come back. But my doctor just kept telling me to be patient and to just do things because you can’t really get better if you’re sitting back and doing nothing.

The stereotypes are often that people think that you’re dangerous, that you are useless, that you are totally off-the-wall unpredictable. When someone thinks that because you’re having a bad day, that it related to your illness, or they think that because, no one takes you seriously sometimes because they think you’re paranoid or whatever, I mean, there’s a lot of things like that. A lot of the things that you’ll read are totally not up-to-date and not accurate on the Internet, I would also say that. There are a lot of normal people living normal lives with this illness, and yet they probably wouldn’t tell you. One to two per cent of people in the population have schizophrenia. When I met other people who had gone through similar things, that was helpful. When I went to a clubhouse where there were other young people who were going through similar illnesses and they were okay with me not being able to communicate super well at first, they were okay with me, just finding my way back toward being sociable. And being able to just get along with people the way other people do. So it was really nice at that time, to have my little cocoon of people that were sort of like, “We’ve been through it, we don’t care, you know, you can be wherever you are today.” Once I had people who were okay with me being who I was, that really made a difference to me. And it actually, ironically, allowed me to come back to a place where I could contribute a lot more than I would have ever thought I could again.

I would want any young person to know that it’s really, really workable. Anything is workable, if you seek help, if you get treatment, if you allow someone to help you out. Sometimes with schizophrenia, the insight into the fact that you’re ill is not there so you need to have other people help you. If you have someone in your life that is going through something, like, that you think might be this, know that just being there for them is the most important thing you could ever do. I would say surrounding yourself with people who understand. They don’t have to be people who have been through it, but just people who are going to treat you unconditionally like yourself and who are going to have faith that you will recover. Because anyone can and many people do. It can really seem like it’s not possible. It can feel like it’s not possible. But it totally is.

Text: We would like to thank Laura for sharing her story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

Connor (6:17)

Connor talks about his experiences with anxiety disorder and OCD.


Text: Connor’s story

Connor: My name is Connor McClellan. I’m 20. I’m currently taking a bachelor of science at Dalhousie with the intention of majoring in psychology.

It was the sleep disorder that brought me in to see the doctor, first of all. And later on, I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder. After a while, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder as well. When I was about 13 or so, I started having trouble sleeping. And after a while, I noticed that I was having a whole lot of anxiety at school. And part of that anxiety was related to just social issues at school. I was afraid of what it might mean if I was somehow different, what people would think, how I’d be judged. I felt kind of outcast, I suppose. It was around that time that I felt that I wasn’t fitting in around other people. People, it seemed, were ignoring me. That only made the anxiety worse.

Text: Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 10.

Connor: People never really asked questions. They just kind of assumed that something was wrong. If there’s a scale of anxiety, most people would feel a three or four at most, whereas I was going seven, eight, nine, simply from regular activities in the day. The sleep problems were only exacerbating those. For me, the anxiety manifested mostly in physical symptoms. I was mostly feeling sick, like I had a stomach flu of some sort. And it was at its worst in the morning when I needed to get out of bed and go to school. I felt safer at home. That was my comfort zone. And leaving the comfort zone was the most anxiety-inducing part of the day. There were a few times in the first class or two when I felt very sick and ended up having to leave because I was going to throw up. This happened every day for years.

By the time I was in Grade 8, the anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t go to school anymore and I lost contact with all of my friends. Grade 10 came along, and I was at high school and the anxiety worsened quite a bit there. There was a whole lot of other people who were coming and going and my social life was not what I felt like it could be. Sleep was getting worse. Anxiety was getting worse.

When I was about 17, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorder is the presence of obsessive thoughts and often these thoughts can lead to compulsions to do something in order to lessen the frequency of these thoughts. I would have obsessive thoughts that I know weren’t based in reality, but I would still feel that I needed to act on them. I was doing a lot of things that I wasn’t normally doing. I was washing my hands a couple times an hour. I felt like I couldn’t touch some objects or other people. I couldn’t shake hands with other people. I was organizing things far too much, not in a normal manner.

People around me didn’t really understand what was going on. They didn’t really see a reason for me to be washing my hands so often, or why I might want to turn the light off in a room that I wasn’t even in or why I favoured certain numbers over others.

Text: OCD is a type of anxiety disorder.

Connor: For me, having OCD caused a lot of stress. I stopped going to school entirely. This time it lasted all of the rest of Grade 10, all of Grade 11 and all of Grade 12. I completely lost contact with all of my friends.

Stigma is the fear of being different, the fear of being judged, and often being judged by other people as different in some way. I’ve experienced it on a number of levels. I’ve been referred to as “one of those people” a number of times. If I had a physical illness of some sort, I would be treated just like everybody else, I wouldn’t be referred to as “one of those people.” And often that’s the case with stigma. If somebody has a mental illness, either depression or anxiety, or anything else, they feel that admitting that they have that is somehow a weakness.

If a teacher were able to spot somebody with an anxiety disorder, knowing more about that anxiety disorder would be extremely helpful. Being knowledgeable about the subject is extremely important.

I intend to continue studying psychology at Dal and use my experiences to help others who might be having trouble in those areas.

Text: We would like to thank Connor for sharing his story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

Amy (5:40)

Amy talks about her experience with anorexia and her recovery journey.

Text: Amy’s story

Amy: My name’s Amy. I just graduated from high school. I was accepted to university. But in my spare time, I play piano, and I love playing with my animals at home.

Anorexia is an eating disorder where you don’t think about yourself in the best way. And you see yourself as bigger than you are, uglier than you are, not as what you really look like. And through not eating, you try to control those things.

Text: Approximately 2% of teenage girls have anorexia. 5% have bulimia.

Amy: My eating disorder started when I was in Grade 11. I was 16 years old. I started taking control of my life through not eating. When I didn’t eat, it was me saying I’m winning over everything that was causing problems in my life. So I just avoided it and tried to hide it from everyone. My friends didn’t really notice that much because at that point, I was already getting withdrawn from everyone. And I tried to spend as many minutes as I could alone. So whenever eating times came around, I would disappear. Things got worse and I stopped eating altogether. And the teacher noticed more and more of what was going on. I had sent him an e-mail saying that I wasn’t doing well and that I wanted to kill myself. And he decided that was the time to call my mom. You can die from anorexia and many people have.

Text: Eating disorders can affect boys too.

Amy: I ended up in the hospital a couple times. I ended up having to finish my Grade 11 and Grade 12 year in hospital. I went to my family doctor and was referred to the eating disorder team and saw them within a matter of weeks. And I’ve been seeing them for two, three years now.

A lot of people tell me to just eat: to pick up the food and just eat it. But that’s not how it works. I’ve lost too many friends because of all of this. Running away from me wasn’t the answer. Them learning how to cope with me and how to deal with me is what they should have done. Your parents are there to answer your questions, and you can even go to a doctor and ask them. They know. They know stuff about this.

Slowly integrating back into the real world is what got me better. Eating for me today, it can still be tough. I have my days. So every week I have to go into the hospital. I am weighed by my eating disorder doctor.

You can get over eating disorders. It takes a lot of time and work and commitment. You really have to want to get better. If you don’t want it, you’re not going to get better.

Anorexia is not a way to make your life better. A lot of people—a lot of younger kids—look at themselves and say, “Oh my god, I’m so fat. I need to lose weight.” You don’t really. Look at yourself in the mirror and look at how much you have accomplished and how much of a good person you are.

So my life goal is to go to university and I want to become a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I want to work with kids. I want to work with younger kids and help them through this kind of stuff.

In my community, we have started putting on some coffeehouses where a lot of us who are still sick go. We read poetry, we play songs. We have some comedians come up who tell jokes. And sometimes, most of the time, we laugh about our illnesses. And that’s how we get other people in the community to realize that we may be screwed up, but we’re still somewhat normal. And it’s fun. I mean, reaching out to other people, normal people, and letting them know what we’re like and doing—that kind of stuff gets them involved, and they understand more of what we’re going through.

Ending stigma, to me, means that an everyday person in the community will accept me for who I am. Even after they find out that I’m sick, they won’t judge me at all and they’ll just accept me for who I am.

Text: We would like to thank Amy for sharing her story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

Caet (6:01)

Caet talks about her experience with depression.

Text: Caet’s story

Caet: My name is Caet. I’m a small business owner. I run a business that helps support women that are in labour and having babies. I am studying to become a birth doula. And every day that I wake up and do my job, I am overcoming the challenges of living with depression.

There’s a difference between sadness and distress, and depression as a disease, because when you have a significant life event, you know, a friend passing away, my parents splitting up, most people who don’t have a mental illness have the coping capacities to get past that within a suitable time frame. You’re usually able to bring yourself around to go back to your life. The difference between someone who has depression, in that instance, is that, as much as you’re trying to keep going on with life, it doesn’t get any better. And you need to find ways to make it better for yourself. The brain doesn’t automatically pick up the pieces for you. You have to figure out how to do that on your own.

Text: Depression doesn’t go away on its own.

Caet: When I first started noticing that something was different, I started not being able to sleep at night. I was exhausted but I just couldn’t sleep. Then, of course, because I was up all night, during the day, all I’d want to do is sleep. And then I just kept getting sicker. I was missing a lot of time from my job. A lot of my friends were starting to say, “Well, you know, you can you can never go anywhere because you’re always sick.” And that’s when I kind of started realizing something wasn’t quite right.

Depression isn’t just about feeling like you just don’t want to keep going. For me, it felt like total exhaustion. And not like, “Oh, I want to sleep all the time,” but just like I didn’t have the energy to do anything I liked doing anymore.

Text: Tell a doctor. Tell a parent. Tell a friend.

Caet: So I started going to see my family physician. And she said, “Well, do you think you could be depressed?” And I said, “No, of course not,” because in my world depression means you’re trying to kill yourself. I just knew that I just couldn’t sleep at night. I was sleeping all day and didn’t really feel like doing anything. And I think it was probably about four months of regularly going to physician appointments before I finally said, “I think you might be right.”

I decided to go and put myself through a counselling program to see a counsellor. But I had no income so I had to go through the provincial health program for it. And I found myself in the bathtub once just wondering, if something were to happen to me, and I just ended up staying in the tub forever, how long would it be before someone found me?

There definitely is a stigma surrounding depression and mental illness. I’ve experienced it firsthand, unfortunately. Really good example of that: I had a really awesome job working as a tour representative. And it was a dream job for me. They ended up letting me go from the job and they said that I wasn’t enthusiastic enough after about four months. This: “No, you’re just not enthusiastic enough and you’re just not into it.” I said, well, I don’t think you’re right on that, but you do need to know that I do have depression. It is an illness. And sometimes what comes off as unenthusiastic is actually just me battling that on a daily basis. And the answer that I got to that from the person that had hired me was, “Well, if we’d known that at the time that we hired you, we would have maybe made a different decision.” Technically, people aren’t allowed to discriminate against you for that. They’re not allowed to say, “Yeah, we’re not going to hire you because of this.”

Things that help me deal and cope with depression—I hate to use the word get better because I don’t think you ever get better from depression, you just learn how to cope with it. Really increasing your self-esteem and having people that support that. So, for me, it was just taking the time to look at the people in my life and what kind of an influence they had on me. And as much as it was really hard to do, I actually did cut two or three people out of my life that every time I talked to them, it just triggered a huge spiral. The other thing was supportive friends and family. I can’t emphasize that enough. I have friends that understand that one of my hardest things is to make myself go out and do things. As much as I want to go out and do things, sometimes I just can’t.

So depression is a disease. It’s something that I live with every day. But it’s something that I’ve worked really hard to overcome. I own my own business. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come and every day I congratulate myself on the challenges that I face.

Text: We would like to thank Caet for sharing her story.

Thanks to Dr. Stan Kutcher for helping capture these wonderful stories.

Produced by Gorgeous Mistake Productions

teen mental health

TeenMentalHealth.org

(Website) http://www.teenmentalhealth.org

(E-mail) info@teenmentalhealth.org

(Twitter) @TMentalHealth

(Facebook) TeenMentalHealth.org

(YouTube) TMentalHealth1

The stigma attached to mental health challenges is a serious barrier, not only to treatment but to acceptance in a community. It is important to fight stigma when we see it.