From the Editor
Sick with depression, he decided that the burden was too great. The suicide attempt failed, but after he was admitted – when I met him on the inpatient ward – he told me that his family wouldn’t visit. He explained that they couldn’t accept that he had mental illness.
He was right.
Times have changed, but stigma continues. This week, we consider the comments of two advocates.
In the first selection, lawyer Beth G. Beattie describes her illness and her fears. She also discusses her decision to speak out. Noting how few lawyers talk about mental illness – in part, because of the fear of job loss – she has written for a law publication. “The profession is in desperate need of role models, namely, lawyers who live with mental illness and are well established in our positions and prepared to share our stories.”
In the second selection, the University of Toronto’s Dr. David Goldbloom, a CAMH psychiatrist, remembers the silence on the topic of mental illness not so long ago. In an interview with CBC Radio’s Metro Morning, he notes that the silence was due to “secrecy, shame, stigma.” He weighs the progress that’s been made in recent years and he mulls the work to be done, particularly to reach “all communities.”
“Hypocrite, Heretic or Heroine?”
Beth G. Beattie
Lexpert Magazine, August 2019
I was 27 when the first symptoms of bipolar disorder crept into my life. At the time I was a first- year associate in the litigation department of a large Bay Street firm. It was a combination of work stress, a tendency towards perfectionism and a predisposition towards worrying too much that led to my brain chemistry turning on me.
I sank into a dark place.
Beth G. Beattie
So begins an essay by Beattie.
Writing in a legal publication, she describes her journey.
Over the course of the following six years I had several major depressive episodes, brief periods of elevated moods and long stretches of normal moods between the ups and downs. I kept my psychiatrist busy tweaking my medication to try to find balance.
She had a hospitalization.
When I was discharged from the hospital, two themes played out. Firstly, I was obsessed with the thought that I’d get depressed or manic again. I read lots of books and articles on bipolarity and learned that many people get sick again. I was convinced that it was just a matter of time before I would experience a deep low or an uncontrollable high.
Secondly, I was mortified at the possibility that people would find out about my mood disorder and hospitalization. The stereotype of people with bipolar disorder appears to be that we are inherently unstable and unreliable. I certainly did not want to be thought of in those terms as a lawyer. As a result of stigma, both societal and self-imposed, I did not share my story outside my family and closest friends for 14 years.
She made the decision to speak out. She elected to do a presentation.
The weeks leading up to the presentation were agony. I had trouble sleeping and an upset stomach. Pangs of anxiety shot through my chest at frequent intervals. Despite the unrelenting stress, I was determined to share my story. To my great relief, the presentation went very well, ending with a standing ovation that brought me to tears.
She notes the rarity of the decision.
Despite the astonishing number of lawyers living with mental illness, there are very few of us speaking openly about our conditions. There are many reasons why people living with mental illness do not disclose. Lawyers face the same issues as people outside the profession in terms of stigma, but the nature of our work means that we may face additional challenges because of our personalities and choice of career.
She closes by calling on her colleagues:
The profession is in desperate need of role models, namely, lawyers who live with mental illness and are well established in our positions and prepared to share our stories. According to the American Bar Association, research shows that the most effective way to reduce stigma is through direct contact with someone who has personally experienced a relevant disorder…
A few thoughts:
- This is an important essay.
- Beattie has written before about her illness experience; an article for The Globe and Mail was considered in a past Reading. Given the audience of this legal publication, is this the more important piece?
- It’s difficult not to be moved by her description of the anxiety she felt when disclosing her illness to her colleagues.
“Attitudes about mental health are evolving positively: CAMH doctor”
Matt Galloway interviews David Goldbloom
CBC Metro Morning, 18 November 2019
I think it’s only when you stop and take a look backward that you realize, if you are old enough, like me, there was a time when this kind of conversation [about mental health] simply wasn’t happening with any regularity. I think that this is not unique to Toronto by any stretch of the imagination, this is a global phenomenon, but we have witnessed it at close range in Toronto and in Canada. And it has gone from being a relatively silent issue to an issue that is actually much more part of normal conversation…
So notes Dr. Goldbloom in this CBC interview.
He describes “multiple forces at play that have led that to happen”:
- The “broad recognition” of the enormous cost of mental illness “at the societal level.”
- “Courageous people have come forward and disclosed their own journeys through mental illness…”
- “We have seen really concentrated efforts to get the word out.”
Progress. In a warm moment, he talks about the opening of The McCain Building at CAMH. “[Inpatients] spoke about what it was like to know that people of good fortune and prominence felt that their cause was something worth supporting…” He also notes that on the CAMH campus, “it’s not simply The McCain Building” but others have now lent their support and their names to buildings.
Progress. He discusses the thoughtfulness with which suicide is reported on by the Canadian media and the development of the Canadian media guidelines.
Progress. He notes the incredible success of integrated youth wellness hubs that are “mushrooming” across the country, as well as the success and growth of jack.org, a youth advocacy organization.
We still have a long way to go.
We can celebrate the progress that has been made but if you are today struggling with a mental illness, problems of sharing that news with the people you work with, sharing it with your family, sharing it with your boss and knowing how to navigate the system and get help effectively, efficiently, quickly – those are still big hurdles.
He outlines some ideas for moving forward: “One is improving access to care. Number two would be diversifying the range of types of care we provide and that means training up new kinds of personnel to deliver mental health services. And most importantly, making sure that people feel they know where to go when they need help.”
A few thoughts:
- This is a great interview. You can listen to the whole conversation in under 10 minutes.
- There has been progress.
- We should acknowledge the incredible work done by some in speaking out. He mentions Olympian Clara Hughes, for example. Yes, and the list would also include people like Dr. Goldbloom who has spent countless hours doing interviews and speaking at formal and informal events. Dr. Goldbloom started to do radio interviews decades ago; he used to discuss stigma and mental illness in the smoky studio of Peter Gzowski in the 1980s. This interview was one of Matt Galloway’s last at Metro Morning – he moves on in early December. Dr. Goldbloom, however, isn’t moving on. Lucky us.
Reading of the Week. Every week I pick articles and papers from the world of Psychiatry.