River of Flowers, 2014

“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.

That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago.  I was astounded that she didn’t know.  It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.  Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year.  Actually, I was really thankful.  This woman had lost so much in that earthquake.  More than most.  She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit.  I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in.  I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor.  So was I.

Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013

River of Flowers, Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013 (Used with permission)
Image credit: River of Flowers, Healthy Christchurch and Avon Otakaro Network
See:  Healthy Christchurch on Facebook or their website Healthy Christchurch

As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year.  The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points.  Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future.  It feels healthy to me, and I like that.

Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time.  Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster.  When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.

Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least).  I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes.   I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed.  My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage.  That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle.  Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open.  But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.

I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city.  Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults.  Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough.  Three sessions per person is not enough.  The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly.  The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn.  Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city.  Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty.  These both contribute to the state of mental well being.

But this is what really disturbs me…

A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too.  220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010.  In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died.  At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages.  That’s just huge.  And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.

While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti.  Do they get access to free counselling like we have?  Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch.  It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons.  That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.

Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again.  Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.

Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there.  It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.

While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries.  I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like.  I never ended up in a tent city.  I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it).  But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.

“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!” 

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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World Mental Health Day 2013 (Kiwi Time)

Today (10 October) is World Mental Health Day.  Yes, I accept that for some of you I am a day early. That thing called time zones always has me a day ahead of everything, but maybe that just means we can have two World Mental Health Day’s.  What do you think?  Twice the coverage?  It would have to be good.

My first task on this day was to go look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) have set for the theme of the year.  This year’s theme is the elderly and mental health.  Personally I think this is a great theme, not simply because we are all getting older, but because I have an 85 year mother for who I have some responsibility to help as she copes with what old age throws at her.  Old age ain’t pretty (and I’m not talking looks) but it’s actually not what I have on my heart today, so I’m deviating from the theme.  Apparently that’s allowed.

I am worried about what is happening about the mental health needs of those on our planet who aren’t fortunate enough to live in first world countries.  From where I’m looking it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot of support for people with mental illnesses in the third world, and perhaps war-torn countries, let alone for those who are simply trying to maintain a good level of mental health.

Look at the globe depicted in the hand in the image above, and that says a lot to me.  Because it seems that all the world’s focus is on the countries who actually probably have the resources to handle their needs, if they just managed them properly.  But where are the poorer, less resourced countries?  They are the ones that need to be targeted.

I like the focus there is on veteran mental health, and the need identified for post traumatic stress support and treatment for those who have served in war zones.  But what about the people who live in those lands as their home?  What are we doing to treat their post traumatic stress?  They experience trauma too.

A few weeks back there was a major (7.7 magnitude earthquake in Balochistan, Pakistan).  Having lived through a number of catastrophic earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I admit my ears prick up when I hear there has been another major quake somewhere in the world.  While this doesn’t directly relate to World Mental Health Day, what struck me then was the scant media coverage of the tragedy.  For some reason the people of Pakistan suffering and being killed was of seeming little importance to the world media, and so it sadly becomes of little importance to the world.

And that’s where I get back to World Mental Health Day.  When world media decide for themselves what they class as important, people miss out on the aid and treatment they need.  The survivors of that quake will be in all sorts of need for mental health support right now, but what’s the bet that half of us didn’t even know it happened?

What else matters to me?  I’ve been thinking about the situation in Russia with the open abuse and restrictions on those people who identify with LGBTQ.  I wonder if you are a transexual, Russian woman how you access good and safe psychiatric care for your Bipolar Disorder?  The gay, Russian man with suicidal depression?  I’m wondering whether they are of any priority to the people and services who have the skills and resources to treat these people?  They need and deserve the same standard of care as the heterosexuals in that country.

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I damn well hope someone does.  I hope someone has these peoples needs on their priority lists.

World Mental Health Day is a wonderful tool if we use it to ensure that mental health services stretch right around the globe.  If World Mental Health Day is just for the first world countries then I think we are all letting down our fellow human beings.  We are one planet and we are all worthy of quality mental health.

“I’ve always thought of wholeness and integration as necessary myths. We’re fragmented beings who cement ourselves together, but there are always cracks. Living with the cracks is part of being, well, reasonably healthy” 

― Siri Hustvedt, The Sorrows of an American

When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely

It always fascinates me the way ‘Joe (and Jill) Public’ start venting in the comments sections of news articles and social media when there has been some type of head-line grabbing violent crime reported.  It’s true the media themselves tend to make, what I call a, hash of reporting, because they report what it suits them to report, what will get them readers (and ultimately revenue) rather than what we, the public, need to know.

But it’s what the everyday reader has to say that really grips me because suddenly it seems as if the article is not about a human being but rather some ‘non-human’ (some people use the term ‘animal’ but I am reluctant to use that term because animals don’t general commit violent crime).

I have never been in the shoes of a person who has lost a family member, or loved one to violent crime, and so I can only begin to imagine what a terrible experience that must be.  In what I am saying I don’t mean to take away from the grief of people who have just had a loved one ripped away from them by a crime.  Nor am I commenting on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour of the perpetrator. Rather what my focus is on what point do we as the general public decide that a person’s crime or behaviour is so bad that they don’t deserve to be treated with compassion as a human being?

Most recently in the news has been the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who went on a killing spree.  From various comments I have read today, it seems few have much regard for his humanity.  It was the same for Adam Lanza who killed 28 people in Connecticut in December, 2012.

“I have no sympathy for him”

“He’s a nut job”

“He doesn’t deserve to live”

“He clearly needed mental help”

And on the comments and judgements go.  It’s like suddenly the public view is that this person (the perpetrator) is no longer human.  If he burns alive in a cabin, then somehow he deserves it, for the things he has done.  So often people in this situation get written off as being presumed to have a mental illness.  What else would make them act like this?  And if they have a mental illness then they don’t deserve any better.

Well actually let’s just remember that the majority of people with mental illness don’t act like this.  What’s more, if they get the treatment and support they need, when they need it, such violence can be prevented.  But instead the Christopher Dorner’s and Adam Lanza’s of our world get written off.  “No longer human kind, they deserve what they get.”  By the way I’m not saying either of them had a mental illness, but it does seem to be the reason given for so much crime like this.

I’m wondering though, what it feels like to be the family of these people who have committed horrific crimes.  Actually I think that is almost beyond our comprehension.  It’s too easy, in my mind, to forget that these people had families.  They may have had friends.  They had people who love them.  And how must it feel to be those people, firstly having to bear the weight of what their loved one has done, and then carry the general public’s judgement of their loved one.

Actually it must be almost crazy-making to be in that situation.  How do you grieve for your loved one, while the world hates them?  Grieving for the loss of a family member is hard enough usually, but to carry the hate of the world against that person you loved?  That would be too much.  I suspect that’s why the media seem to avoid the Dorner family or the Lanza family.  Not because they don’t want the ‘dirt’ but because it doesn’t sit right on their conscious to feel sad for them in their loss, and to balance their hate  for the perpetrator.  It’s not about wanting to give them space to grief either.  It’s just too damn uncomfortable.

If we can start to express compassion for the families of those people, then maybe we are on track to realise that in spite of their crimes, these perpetrator’s are/were human beings… just like us.  Surely for some to inflict such crime, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere.  While I don’t for one moment condone the crimes committed, I can’t help but ask “what went wrong?” and “how could this have been avoided?”.

I’m sure there are lots of answers to those questions.  Some of them we know to be around mental illness and treatment.  In other cases it might be some other type of illness, or something completely different.  I just hate the thought that we write people off as human beings so easily.  I hate their crime, but to me, they will always be deserving of as much care as I deserve.  Their families deserve as much compassion as the victims’ families.  For really, in these situations, actually, everyone involved has become a victim.

“It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.” 

―    Rick Riordan,    The Lightning Thief

Just Like Me

It’s been a busy week for the news media.  Wow, I guess they’ve all earned their negotiated salaries, although I do wish they would be paid somehow on the basis of what truth they spread.  Social media has also been busy.  Often partly a response to the news media, sometimes spread what they’ve called their own ‘truth’ and sometimes simply spreading lies (like the news), or popular opinion.

It’s made me pretty sad.  Sometimes it’s made me cry, that they can get away with saying the things the do, let alone convincing a somewhat gullible public that they are right.  Other times I took my own advice (Step Away From Your Screen) and literally stepped away from my computer, my television and my phone.  I had to do that to save my mental health because the whirlwind of information (true or otherwise) has wanted to wrap me up in it.  At times I wanted to fight some battles (because that’s who I am) but mostly I took my advice, backed off and watched with sadness.

Image credit: Chenspec/Wikipedia.com

During this week a lot of people have died in this world as a direct result of violence. There are the many who have made the news media, but there are also many more that we never hear about, yet their death’s are just as tragic.

The obvious victims are the 27 children and adults who were shot in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  A tragic loss of so many lives that were mostly just beginning.

For a moment I want to consider two other deaths I have been aware of this week.  One is the 28th person to die at Sandy Hook, the shooter himself who turned the gun on himself.  Another tragic death I heard about this week was a man in England who was murdered in his own home. The details aren’t really important to what I am thinking, apart from to say that it appears his death was some type of vigilante pay back for a crime this man had recently been accused of having carried out.

In the case of both these men, the news media and the social media have played a part in spreading accusations and generalisations.  One man we have heard a lot about, the other you probably haven’t heard about.  What hasn’t been given is the truth.  We don’t know what is real and what is simply hearsay.

What I do know is that both of these men were just like me, in some ways.  They weren’t so different.  They had blood flowing through their veins. Like me they needed love, affection and acceptance.  At some point they had both probably been hurt badly, just like me.  These men were human beings, just like me, who it appeared that for some reason, everything went askew.

Maybe it was mental illness, maybe it was a developmental disorder.  Maybe too, they had some degree of evil (whatever that means) in them to drive them to the things they are said to have done.  Those things haven’t been clarified, yet the world has been quick to condemn.  Of the Connecticut young man I have seen a number of people describe him as ‘not human’.

That’s what leaves me sad.  I’m not condoning the actions of either of these men.  It was all wrong, and terribly devastating, particularly for those who lost family members and friends.

But these men were human, just like me.  And somewhere in spite of the horror of what has been happening, someone is no doubt grieving for them too.

I believe that these men were victims too.  I know that might be an unpopular stance to take, and I have no problem with people disagreeing with what I write (as long as I don’t get abused for an opinion).

Once, a number of years ago, both men were little boys and sometimes I find it helpful to think about them as when they were innocent children.  Again, because of the tragic death of 20 children last week it’s even hard to look at one of these men that way.  It just helps me to realise that while something has gone terrible wrong, these men were once just like you and me.

Yesterday I was at a barbeque (it’s summer here) which was a Christmas party for a group of people I know.  At one point I was sitting at a table with a lovely young man who I don’t know very well.  I’ve only met him a couple of times but what I do know is that he has Asperger’s Syndrome (a condition that has been subject to much media scrutiny this week).

It occurred to me while I was sitting eating my lunch with him, that it must be pretty difficult for him this week.  I know what it’s like to be looked down upon because I have a mental illness.  This young man doesn’t even have a mental illness (that I know of) yet the media have been putting him and other sufferers of Asperger’s in a group and saying we have to be careful of these people.  Apparently they might do ‘what Adam Lanza did’.

This man I was sitting with was, again, just like me.  He doesn’t deserve to be judged just because he has a disorder that makes him a little different from me.  Like me, he was enjoying having a drink, eating fresh berries and getting silly ‘Secret Santa’ gifts.  He had less to say for himself than most people on the group but that was the only noticeable difference.  He was, like me, having a good time.

Let me be very clear.  I’m not saying that horrific crimes committed against innocent people are acceptable.  They’re not.  It’s a terrible tragedy what has happened this week.  But we can’t afford to be looking at these people and thinking they are somehow different to us.  I’m not qualified to say why they might have done what they did.  I do have views on things that need to be done in society to prevent this from happening again, but those aren’t important right now.

What is important to me is that all the people who died this week (somewhere in the world) as a result of violence are human like me.  Someone loved them.  And to me, that puts a slightly different spin on things.

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy,  we can all sense a mysterious connection
to each other.”

~  Meryl Streep

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have
been all of these.” 

―    Siddhārtha Gautama

Like Minds, Like Mine

LMLM image

We all know how good it is to find that someone thinks like we do. A like mind, like mine. When we find that like mind is worth connecting and sticking close. Especially if we’re a little bit different from most.  Finally someone gets us.

In New Zealand there is an organisation dedicated to a public education programme working to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness in New Zealand. I love it. A whole organisation, funded by the government (Ministry of Health) no less.

Check out Like Mind, Like Mine’s website  and their Facebook page for more information.

I think this is really exciting to have such an organisation working on stigma, something which I am passionate about.  They are doing a wide range of activities to promote this message and for some years there has been a television advertising campaign working to spread the word that anyone can have a mental illness.  Like Minds have used prominent Kiwis (at times) to spread this message, people who have struggled with mental illness themselves.  Names like ex-All Black John Kirwan, musician Mike Chunn and fashion designer Denise L’Estrange-Corbet all took part in early campaigns to let people know that people like us, (and them) suffer mental illnesses.

So I was really honoured to be interviewed recently for their latest newsletter.  You may as well have told me I’d won an Oscar when they asked to talk to me about this blog.  Wow!  For me, it’s a great opportunity to link up with an organisation doing something I feel so strongly about.  It will also, hopefully, let more Kiwis know about my blog (as well as the other kiwi blog featuredin the article).  If you’d like to read what they had to say about me, and many more topics, here’s the link to their PDF version:

http://www.likeminds.org.nz/file/Newsletter-Archive/PDFs/lmlm-51_web.pdf

“Have no fear when darkness falls because there’s a light that shines within us all. There’s a flame that burns in every heart. It’s the will we have that lights the spark. Once in every lifetime, there’s a chance to stand apart.”

 ~ Theme song from 2002 Winter Olympics

Step Away From Your Screen

Step Away from your Television

Step Away from your Computer

(after you have finished reading this) ;-)

Something very terrible happened yesterday in Connecticut, and there’s no denying the trauma that has caused for many people, both those involved directly and those of us who are watching it all replayed on our screens.  In what I am about to say I am not down-playing what happened, nor am I ignoring the needs of the victims and survivors.  What I want to talk about it how do we manage our feelings as onlookers.

I have a mental illness, and because of that there are a number of things that I have difficulty with.  I know I’m not alone in this, and that’s why I am stepping away from my normal policy for my blog of not giving advice.

I just want to share something I’ve learned over the past couple of years.  With the shooting yesterday I know the automatic thing is to sit glued to the news channels, etc.  Don’t.    You’ve got the facts.  Now turn off the television/computer/ phone, or whatever your source of media information.

The media are there to give us the information but so often in times like this, they ‘play it up’ for want of a better term, they go on to talk about why something has happened, and really they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to do that without setting people off on tangents that really aren’t helpful.  They might give us information but they make it more emotional, hype us up and leave us more upset.

It’s hard for anyone to handle, but it’s harder for people with mental illnesses for a number of reasons.  Firstly our moods can already be lowered, and news like this plummets anyone’s mood lower.  For some people (including those like me who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) we struggle at best of times to regulate how we’re feeling.  News like this leaves us unsure of how to react, and how to manage those feelings we have.  The temptation can be to reach out to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking, drugs, self harm and the like.

We know it’s happened, we know it’s terrible.  But we don’t need to go on tormenting ourselves by watching it.  Turn it off, light a candle, say a prayer or whatever you need to do, and then do something nice for yourself.  We don’t need the details replayed to us, over and over again.  Turn it off.

The other thing that is difficult for people with mental illnesses is the inevitable talk of whether the gunman had a mental illness.  I am choosing not to debate that here because I don’t think it’s helpful right now.  What does matter is that if we have a mental illness ourselves, we can hear what the media, or other people say about people with mental illnesses…   and we hear them saying that stuff about us.

Suddenly we’re thinking that media and others are saying we’re capable of such terrible acts.  That’s not what is being said, and if it is then they’re saying it as a cruel generalisation.  It’s hurtful and it’s dangerous.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I commented on my personal Facebook page that watching the television news was very traumatic, and that it could replay in our minds things from our past.  I said this in relation to a weather event in New Zealand, because watching it had brought to mind all I had experienced in our earthquakes in Christchurch during 2010/11.  Simply watching the television was replaying my traumatic memories.

What is being played on television and other media today, and in the weeks to come, is traumatic for anyone.  But for a person with a mental illness is going to be so much harder to bear.  I really believe (and am choosing to do this for myself as much as possible) that it is time to turn it all off.

Remember the victims and the survivors.  Think of those who are working to help the town grieve for their lost.  But what good can come from having it replayed over, and over on your screen?  What is something more productive that we could do?  One thing we can do is something to soothe and take care of ourselves.

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers

Image credit: FB/Bullying is for Losers

“And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, ‘Yes, the stars always make me laugh!’ And they will think you are crazy. It will be a very shabby trick that I shall have played on you…” 

―    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,    The Little Prince

When Things Go Viral

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Last week in my post What Battles To Fight?, I was frustrated by having too many battles I wanted to fight.  Too many things I disagreed with strongly.  I knew I couldn’t tackle every battle, and if I did, it simply wouldn’t be any good for both my mental or physical health.  It was nice to know (from the comments that followed) that I wasn’t alone in this frustration.  I’m suspecting that perhaps there is a certain type of person (of which I haven’t yet defined) who just can’t let go of the need to try to make things better in this world.

One of the battles I mentioned in that post was about how news media, social media and some mental health organisations were handling the news  of a suspected suicide of a young woman who had a pretty hard time at the hands of others before she apparently took her own life.  At the time, I made a comment on a blog post hosted by a mental health site but elected not to get involved any further.  As time as gone on though, I have got more concerned by this situation.

I’m purposely not giving specifics here because I refuse to add to the mayhem.  I’m sorry if you find that frustrating.  I guess the issue got personal for me yesterday and I came away from that really worried about the consequences of when things ‘go viral’ on this wonderful invention called the internet.

Yesterday I was asked by another young woman (through social media) to view a video she had made and placed on You Tube.  I was reluctant, but agreed to watch it simply because I was concerned about what message others who I have contact with, might end up watching and possibly be disturbed as a result of viewing.

It was disturbing.  It covered topics of bullying, mental illness and self harm.  It was in a very similar style to the original video I had been concerned about last week.  The video, that I understand has now been freely viewed by more than six million viewers.  After watching the new video I had the opportunity to talk briefly to the young woman who made it, and asked me to watch it.  After setting some boundaries (based on the role that I was in) I asked her what she was hoping to achieve by making and posting the video.  Her reply?

“IDK”

“I don’t know”  Actually as our conversation continued, I became more convinced that she did know, but she just didn’t expect anyone to question her intentions.  I can only guess at her intentions now, because shortly after she ended the conversation (apparently I took the matter too seriously), and she was gone.

I certainly hope that this doesn’t end the way of the original video,  (Please God, no!) which she had pretty much copied, although added that she herself was a bully and individually named some people who she considered were also bullies.   In the time we spoke, I had enough information to be concerned, but not enough to warrant trying to get some professional help for her.  I also didn’t have the time as she elected to end the conversation.  But this much I know… she needs professional help and I hope she reaches out and gets it.

At that point my responsibility had to turn to others who also witnessed my exchange with her (including some who also watched the video and made same connection I did).  Maybe this was all about trying to seek attention?  I don’t know.  If it was, then she got some attention, but perhaps not quite what she was hoping for.

My concern is about how many other hurting people are seeking attention, or crying out in a similar way to the first person?  How many millions watched that first video (perhaps after being encouraged to watch it by media organisations) and assumed this was the way to get noticed, get attention, make someone hear that they too are struggling.  How many chose to self injure, and then show evidence of their injuries because perhaps they got that idea from what they saw?  How many choose to act out suicidal thoughts because they think that is the only way to be noticed, and to end the pain they are in?

When I questioned the author of the original post (from where I had got the original video link), why she had provided her readers with the link to that original video I got the reply that everyone else was doing it so why shouldn’t she.  A further comment to another reader also suggested that young people will see harmful stuff everyday, so somehow it didn’t matter if she encouraged viewing.   She also added that it was the wish of the mother of the dead young woman, that people see and learn about the realities of bullying.

I have no desire to hide from the reality of bullying, mental illness or self harm.  Actually I think it is important that these issues be discussed openly so that we avoid stigma, and also so that the secrets that some people carry with them, do not have to have the harsh consequences of shame.

That said, how these issues are discussed is crucially important in taking care of the people who view.  The mother of the dead woman apparently wanted other parents to watch the video her daughter had made because other parents need to be aware of the risks of bullying.  I totally accept that was her wish, and I don’t mean to criticise that at all.   The problem I have is that those parents are not the only people who watch such videos.

It would be interesting to view some statistics of those who watched the original video.  How old were they?  What was their reason for watching?  Did they have some personal issues of their own which were reflected in the video?  And perhaps most  important to me, did they have somewhere safe they could talk about what they saw?

There are consequences when things go viral.  Both positive and negative.  Yes, we get a message ‘out there’ about the need to stamp out bullying, but we also get already hurting people, hurting more and probably having nowhere to turn to get help and support.  On what do I base my opinion?  That I am fairly sure that had I watched that video five years ago when I was trapped in  self harm behaviour and addiction, I would probably have felt the need to harm myself as a response to what I saw.  Thankfully that is not my reality today, but I suspect for many it would be.

I read an interesting blog post on this subject today. The writer took a different approach to mine, but s/he made a good point:

“We cannot kill the current state of the internet to protect people, because keeping the internet open and free is a great means to protect the very same people.” (1.)

The internet serves a good purpose in providing an access to support for many people.  There is no doubt about that in my mind.  But it can also be an access to triggering and emotionally disturbing material for those same people.

All I would like to see is that both sides of the coin are considered equally.  Personally, I would not have left the original video on You Tube.  It could be useful in some monitored setting, but the potential harm is too much to risk, in my view.  Immediately on viewing it I could recognise that there were potential triggers for people regarding suicide, bullying and self harm.  I am sure it could have been edited to eliminate some of these triggers, but still keey the message her mother wanted.  It could also have had help-line contact details at the end, so that people needing help could access it.

Yes, I am an idealist.  Ideally, this young woman who died would have been spared the pain she went through.  Ideally, she would still be alive today.  Ideally, others would not be traumatised by watching her video.  Ideally, viewers would have got the message that young woman’s mother wanted to get across.  Ideally, the other young woman, with whom I had contact yesterday, would also have found another way to feel loved and important.  Ideally she won’t go on to self harm further, and she will get help.

I know we don’t live in an ideal world, but I am convinced that we can take more care.  When things go viral, we need to consider all the consequences.

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

“When  written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One  represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”

 - John F. Kennedy

Mad, Bad or Just Different

“…it doesn’t automatically follow that he must be mad just because what he has done is inexplicable.”

 - Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London   ( 1.)

For some time now I have been frustrated by ‘the mad versus bad’ debate that comes out pretty much every time there is a terrible crime committed.  I’m neither a psychiatrist or a criminologist, so I’m not going to discuss it from the perspective of how we handling offenders, but rather than how this ‘mad versus bad’ debate is something that simply adds to the stigma of mental illness.

Today I was reading some comments on a New Zealand news website.  The subject being discussed was the New Zealand Government’s recent announcement that it intends to shut down (or merge) a lot of schools in the Canterbury area, as a result of the earthquakes we experienced in 2010/11.  The announcement has angered many Christchurch residents and so the debate I was reading was getting quite heated.

The subject of discussion was absolutely nothing to do with mental illness, but there was quite a difference of opinion between one reader and the majority.  Here’s a snippet of some of the comments I read:

“You are one sick person.”

“Go check yourself into a mental facility because you are quite likely delusional.”

“Don’t take any notice of that retard.”

“Only someone with a mental illness would make these comments. “

It doesn’t really matter whether there was a right or a wrong in the argument that was taking place.  My opinion was that there was nothing abusive, or harmful being said by the person these comments were directed at.  He simply had a different opinion.  Personally, I didn’t agree with his opinion either, but not for one moment did I assume he must have a mental illness. But it came across loud and clear that the general consensus of other readers was that the dissenter had an opinion different to most and therefore he was assumed to have a mental illness.

The quotation at the beginning of this post related to that of Norwegian, Anders Behring Brevik, and this is by no means a comment on his sanity, or his actions.  I have used it because it is used exactly the same way simply because people don’t agree with what is said.  That’s a huge leap of assumption to make, let alone an attack on those who legitimately have diagnosed mental illnesses.

What strikes me is that having an unpopular opinion, let alone badness, or even evil, is not a symptom of mental illness.  There is no reason why mental illness should have been an issue in the debate I was reading, and I am inclined to think that it is a case of stigmatising people with mental illness.

I know these types of generalisations are made every day and the media is very good at expanding and encouraging them.  I chose not to get involved in the debate I read.  I’m realising that I have to pick my fights, and had I picked this one I would have potentially taken the discussion away from the real focus of the discussion on the site.

I just get frustrated because it simply adds to the stigma we deal with every day.  Personally I have regularly found that if my opinion is different from the majority then there is a tendency of those around me to put it down to my mental illness.  They might say, “don’t worry, Cate is just overly emotional”  or “Cate’s getting carried away by her emotions again”.

Actually I get really angry when my opinion gets disregarded solely on the basis of my mental health.  If there is some sound, factual reason why my opinion should be disregarded then fine, but not a generalisation that my mental illness is the cause of my difference.  I have a brain, and I have opinions, like anyone else.  Yes, my mental health contributes to the basis of those thoughts, as does anyone’s, but it is not the cause.

It’s actually okay to be different.  It’s okay to have opinions different from the majority.  But it’s not okay for them to be simply pushed aside because of a diagnosis of mental illness.

“I also learned that a person was not necessarily bad just because you did not agree with him, and that if you believed in something, you had better be prepared to defend it.” 

―    Hillary Rodham Clinton

*

“We judge others instantly by their clothes, their cars, their appearance, their race, their education, their social status. The list is endless. What gets me is that most people decide who another person is before they have even spoken to them. What’s even worse is that these same people decide who someone else is, and don’t even know who they are themselves.” 

―    Ashly Lorenzana

A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried

Image via Be You Own Kind of Beautiful

I don’t cry a lot.  I am an emotional person and that means that I feel things strongly.  I have wanted to cry at many times recently but it just hasn’t happened.  But now it has.  It’s amazing how something in which I have no involvement can affect me so deeply, but I guess I just hate it when I see someone being treated so badly.

Jason Russell of Invisible Children speaks at ...

Jason Russell of Invisible Children speaks at TEDxSanDiego in December 2011 – _MG_4054 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

Through my Facebook page Infinite Sadness or what I learnt of a man named Jason.  He’s obviously been on the news, particularly in United States, but somehow I had never heard him.  Maybe this news didn’t get as far as New Zealand, or maybe I was otherwise occupied when I should have been paying attention.  If you have heard of him, then you are probably having some thoughts about what you know so far.  I would be interested to know what your first thoughts are when you read his name here.  It seems his name is one which inspires strong feeling.

Jason Russell is a man who has recently suffered what is known as a ‘Brief Reactive Psychosis‘ as a result of extreme stress.  Before this happened he had become known for being the founder of the Invisible Children group and was behind the Kony 2012 documentary.  That highlighted human atrocities in Uganda by Joseph Kony, who forced thousands of children into sex slavery, while turning others into child soldiers to further his warped agenda (1.).  I’m not going to go into more detail because it’s not the point I want to make.  That said, searching the names I have mentioned will easily bring the details to your eyes.  It’s not the point I want to make because while the suffering of the children appalls me, what has happened to Jason Russell personally shocks me and leaves me thinking ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

That’s not what made me cry either although it appalls me that I could face something similar.  It’s not even the criticism Invisible Children have had over how they spend their money.  What I care about, and it made me cry is the way this man (or any man or woman for that matter) has been treated as a result of his mental illness.  This man should never have become the victim of media and the general public who have found it funny to highlight his downfall into psychosis.  There are masses of clips of this man in a way I would never want to be portrayed.  I’m not showing them to you because I’m not prepared to join the bandwagon of mocking a man because of his mental illness, and giving those that posted them the satisfaction of more people watching.  And actually for the same reason, I didn’t watch them myself.  I saw the first scene frozen on my screen before me of a naked man, in public, clearly doing things you wouldn’t want to be seen doing.

My heart breaks because this man is ill.  He has a mental illness, which is now being treated, but it caused him to (probably unknowingly) do something that has caught the attention of the masses who choose to see it as a joke.  There is no joke in mental illness, ever.  I don’t know this man, and it could be anyone in the same situation but why do people choose to laugh at another’s pain?  I grew up and still believe in the philospohy to let the one who has never fallen cast the first stone.

I had my own psychotic episode back in 2001.  I was hospitalised as Jason Russell has been.  I largely kept from those around me, what that psychosis entailed because I knew I risked being seen as a joke.  I never went naked in a city street but my reality was that I believed that the  events of 9/11 in 2001 were my fault.  I believed that those thousands that died, died because of me.  I had reasons for believing this and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind.  I thought I had triggered the end of the world.  At the same time I also believed that I needed to kill someone who was very close to me.  Even though I had never before had such thoughts, I was now seriously considering how to do it.  As it was the person was not in the city in which I lived but I was told that if I took a step out of my city, then I would be arrested.  11 years on it is possible to smile about this but really there was absolutely nothing funny about what my mind had convinced me.  I was sick and I needed help.

Several weeks ago I had a conversation with an acquaintance in United States about how I suspected the stigma associated with mental illness was greater in New Zealand than in America.  We discussed how in the States it seemed more acceptable to have some form of mental illness.  But if the case of Jason Russell , who is somewhat of a public figure there, is anything to go by the stigma is still alive and well there.  I’m not in that country and I’m not here to judge.  Actually I suspect if Jason was a public figure in New Zealand people would unfortunately be just as quick to pour laughter and scorn on his suffering.

Yes, because I have a mental illness myself I am maybe sensitive to such stories.  But I’d like to think it would make me cry regardless.  In my view it’s just not acceptable to laugh at, judge, or condemn any person for their suffering and pain.  I’d like to see You Tube remove the clips of this incident and I’d like to see the media do an about-face and apologise and support this man.  I’d like to see individuals say this is not okay to treat another human being like this.  Am I asking too much?  I don’t think so.

It is well known that one in four people will encounter mental illness in their lifetime.  That is huge.  The chances are it could be you next, or the person who released the video.  None of us know what lies ahead of us.  None of us know who the next person to suffer will be.  None of us are exempt.  That cries out to me that we need to treat our fellow human with compassion.  Changing the world might be expecting too much, but compassion from each individual would be a great way to start.

PS.  If you’re saying to yourself ‘I’m just one person and what can I do?’ Well, we can all start with caring for the person next to us.  Every little bit helps.  Another thing you could do is share what I have written.  Let’s see if others feel the same.  And if the world can begin to change.

“No man is a true believer unless he desireth for his brother  that which he desireth for himself”

 Muhammad (P.B.U.H)