Lieutenant Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addiction aims to talk openly about mental health issues
It is estimated that more than one in three people will suffer from some form of mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives. But many of these people remain silent for fear of ridicule or shame in asking for help. Often times mental illness can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to the complexity and individual symptoms, so many people don’t know where to turn. It is with this reality in mind that Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Donald S. Ethell created the Circle on Mental Health and Addiction in 2011 to help remove the stigma surrounding these issues.
As a former Canadian soldier, Mr. Ethell eventually became a veteran of 14 international peacekeeping deployments, with service in Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Central America and the Balkans. However, he also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
According to vice-chair of the circle, Jeff Sych, the Lt. Governor is passionate about raising awareness. “I have met many fantastic people since I became involved in the circle, but none more passionate than His Honour. He genuinely cares,” said Sych, who is also a registered psychologist with a private practice in Strathcona.
The circle has been listed as a charitable organization with a mandate of helping reduce stigma related to mental illness and addiction, furthering public knowledge of the topic, shining a light on the positive work taking place across the province, and giving hope and comfort to those affected by letting them know that they are not alone. “When people struggle with mental illness, diagnosing it can be difficult. It’s not like an injury you can point to like a broken bone or tumour, and when individuals don’t see the injury, it’s hard for them and others to understand,” said Glynnis Lieb, executive director of the Circle.
“But we are starting to see some tangible results in understanding mental health, and people’s perception of it. We now know how mental health and addictions affects the brain. We know it’s not a choice to have depression or have an addiction because you are already predisposed,” said Sych.
What is worrying for those working in mental health and on the Circle is that two out of three people with a mental illness do not seek any help. “Some may feel that they must have made weak or bad choices, and many feel there is a shame, fear and a self blame. We are here to tell them that is not the case. There is help out there and we are all about connecting people to know they are not alone,” said Lieb.
Asked why they connected addiction and mental health under the Circle, Sych said the two are often very tied together. “With those who report depression or anxiety, 20 per cent of those also report substance abuse problems. Or there may be those with bipolar who turn to drugs and alcohol to try and get a handle on their mental illness,” said Sych.
A big part of the Circle’s goal is to let people know where to turn for help, which doors to go through and making sure that patients are being sent to the proper facility or services.
“With greater public awareness we can reduce mismatched referrals. If someone is having a heart attack, they know where to go. But with mental health illnesses, people are still unsure how to navigate the system, or which door to go through first,” said Sych.
Often times, the best place to go, according to Lieb and Sych, is to your family doctor first. All are trained to detect mental illness and can point patients in the right direction. “Mental health problems are the norm, not the exception. People suffer in silence and it doesn’t have to be like that. They can ask for help. And that is why stigma reduction is so important, so people will seek help they need,” said Sych.
Which is the central message from the Lieutenant Governor: “If we can foster awareness, help to reduce stigma and let those who suffer know that they are not alone, then we will have done our job.”
For more information of the Lieutenant Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addiction, go to lgcirclealberta.ca.