Friday, January 30, 2009

Why a Light in the Dark?

Dear Night-Lights,

A Light in the Dark takes place January 31st at 8pm.

Why do we need an event like Light in the Dark?

For every tinder
that would make a spark

For every spark
that would be a flicker.

For every flicker
that would become a flame.

Make it bright.
Light the night.

I've lived with a diagnosis of a mental health condition for about 12 years now. In the 12 years of my experience living with this condition, so far I haven't seen any concerted awareness campaigns about mental health, nor really have there been any large-scale public events to help raise awareness about mental health issues.

Canadian apathy towards public education and awareness is simply astounding given the research findings that are reported below:

Some striking numbers:
The Globe and Mail reports that nearly 1 in 5 people will experience some type of mental health event in their lifetime, whether this is depression, psychosis, obsessive/compulsive behaviour, anxiety, and so on.

Recent surveys completed by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) report that 50% of Canadians believe that "claims of mental illness" are just an excuse for poor behaviour.

25% of Canadians, according to the CAMH survey, report being afraid of a person with a mental illness.

You know what the sad thing is? Those people who make up that 25% statistic aren't afraid of "mental illness." The thing that 25% of Canadians are afraid of is the mythology of mental illness; the rumors and superstitions and half-truths that are circulated in the media. What is even sadder, is that those who live with conditions affecting their mental health have to live in communities where 1 out of every 4 people they see in a day might fear them.

I live day in and day out fully understanding that there are people in my community who might fear me. I live my life every day affected by the fear our communities have of those who have conditions of mental health. And can I be honest? It's not fun or easy or comfortable to live in a world where people fear you. In fact, it is very difficult, and it is very frustrating. When you live in a world where people fear you it is very difficult to get help when you are unwell, it is difficult to find a comfortable place to call home, and it is even more difficult to find a job, let alone keep one when your dirty secret eventually slips out.

Mental health is our last *dirty* secret...
Most of us know at least one person who has lived with a condition affecting their mental health, if we aren't living with one ourselves. Since so many of us know someone with a mental health condition, and since so many of us struggle to maintain a grasp on our own mental health, I think it's time we finally start talking about these things.

By talking about mental health and the issues surrounding mental health, we will finally be able to confront some of the problems that have been plaguing those living with mental health conditions.

Some of the "bigger" issues are:
access to proper treatment
equal educational opportunities
social inclusion
apathy towards public education which supports continued circulation of mythology
flawed legal systems

Some of the problems that plague those living with mental health problems are:
lack of financial support
difficulties with gaining stable and meaningful employment
unethical employer practices/policies
unstable supply of medication
difficulty finding safe and stable housing
pervasive social mythology that is perpetuated by media
unjust legal system

By introducing the annual Light in the Dark event, we aren't interested in solving these issues, or really even talking about them on an open stage at this point, what we are interested in doing is demonstrating to our communities and to our social and political systems that there is a foundation of support for those living with conditions affecting their mental health.

Those of us who understand mental health problems and the related issues know very well that these conditions leave us and our families exhausted. That is why we are encouraging a vigil on January 31st that takes place in the comfort of our own homes as we kick up our heels, relax on our sofas, and recover from our busy day and our complicated lives.

Those who live with issues that affect their mental health need to know that they are supported by their loved ones and by their communities. Lighting a candle is the simplest effort to let us know that we are welcome in the spaces and places that we hope to call home.

Let your light show!

Lighting my candle Jan. 31st and hoping you will light yours too,

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