May 28, 2011

Let’s Take a Mental Health Day!!! Breaking through the Dark Cloud

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Written by: MAB
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You wake up and feel like crap.  But it isn’t a cold, or a stomach thing, or whatever.  It feels like there is this big, dark cloud of blah hanging around you.  And that cloud is heavy. So heavy that it makes getting out of bed hard, especially since you slept terribly last night; you had trouble falling asleep because you couldn’t stop worrying about stuff.  Like how expensive rent is, and how quickly it’s coming up, and that weird rash on your arm that you think is probably cancer, and how you think your bestest best friend in the whole wide world is snubbing you because you swear it’s been at least a day since he texted you last.

But the worst part about this all?  It’s been happening for weeks.  And no matter how much your BFF and your friends might tell you it’ll get better, and to just, “Suck it up, buttercup”, you really feel like you’re sinking into a deep hole out of which you’ll never climb.  And that makes you feel even worse; useless even.

What’s this all about?

If any of this sounds familiar, you may be one of the one in five Canadians who will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

But if you’re a daily Gaily reader, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re related to the LGBT community in some way, shape or form, either as a member, or supporter.  And that’s particularly significant, because mental illness in the LGBT community is a pervasive health issue.

Why it’s important.

For example, a recent 2010 study from the University of Illinois among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth suggested that the prevalence of mental disorders among LGBT youth were higher than youth in national samples.  While the study did have a relatively small sample size (n=246), it does help make the case that suggests that LGBT people tend to have higher rates of mental disorders.

A quick common sense check will give us some clues as to why that might be:  The coming out process and assertion of one’s self in a largely heteronormative world can be a daunting experience for young men and women.  It’s a psychically destructive process, as it often breaks down preconceived notions of self, gender identity, and social structure.  It’s no wonder that sometimes, it gets us down.  So really, is it any wonder that things like traumatic childhood experiences of bullying, discrimination and the unfortunate side-effects of the loss of family acceptance, have an effect on our mental health?

But common sense isn’t always enough:  looking at the science, a number of studies have suggested that bullying, stigma and discrimination during our younger days can lead to worse health outcomes, higher rates of suicide, mood disorders and other associated mental conditions. Here’s a bit of “light” reading if you’re interested in learning more.

What to do about it.

So, okay.  That’s all well and good, but you still feel like crap, and you don’t know what to do.  Don’t worry, there’s lots of help out there for you! A lot of amazing advocates have been doing some wonderful work breaking down the barriers that kept people from being happy, well-adjusted, Gaga-loving (or hating, I don’t judge!)  queers.

Generally speaking, in Canada, your family doctor is your first point of contact in the mental health system.  They can refer you to specialists (psychiatrists or psychologists) or may be able to address less severe cases themselves. This is particularly helpful if you have a good relationship with your doc.  They can also point you in the direction of some helpful resources, like support groups and organizations that advocate on behalf of those with mental illnesses.

Another thing you should consider doing is reaching out to your friends and family.  They can help you take the steps to taking control of your life again, and provide you that crucial support when you need it most: like feeding you when you can’t bear to cook, or giving you a sympathetic ear when you need to talk to someone.

Finally, the well-trained internet-scouring fuzzy kittens at The Gaily have also offered the following links as jumping-off points for finding additional resources on the ‘net:

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a useful page on when and how to get help, and a FAQ page.

More information and resources are available from Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada

A cautionary note: If you experience extreme distress, are in crisis, or think you might do harm to yourself, call 9-1-1, or visit your nearest emergency department at a hospital.  There are also a variety of crisis lines available; here’s one that’s available nationally:

About the Author

|Health Contributor| I’m the one your mother warned about. At 29-years old I managed to slough off the golden handcuffs of the federal public service to pursue a life of poverty (read: M.Sc. in Epidemiology) at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine. I have a particular (academic) interest in sexually transmitted and blood borne infections. I enjoy planting my face in my kitties’ bellies and going *phtbpbptbpbtopbpt*, digital photography, cooking, and asking, “why?” Pet peeves include pseudoscience, wilful ignorance and bureaucratese. And before you ask, I’m sorry, I’m married. To a boy. *giggle*



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  1. Kristi

    Thanks so much for bringing some more attention to this issues. As a person who has suffered from post partum depression, anxiety, etc. and is currently working my ass off to painstakingly wean off three different anti-depressants, this is something that really hits home.

    • MAB

      Thanks for opening up! That’s very brave of you. Mental illness has touched a lot of people in my friends and family, and it’s something I also feel strongly about. If this helps one person to reach out and get help, then I’ll feel like the post accomplished its goal.

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