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Why My Local Kiwanis Club Has Me sKreaming Against Halloween Stigma

Why My Local Kiwanis Club Has Me sKreaming Against Halloween Stigma

Every Halloween season, the stigma against mental illness rears its ugly head, usually in the form of distasteful “dangerous crazies” costumes and asylum-themed decor. This year’s no exception.

But I’ve been so busy raising awareness and fighting stigma of mental illness on social media, that I was blindsided by what’s been happening in my own backyard of Orléans, a suburban community in the City of Ottawa’s east end.

sKreamers is the “demented and awkward child of the Kiwanis Club of Orléans.”

Their words, not mine. It says so right in the About section of the sKreamers website.

sKreamers is a so-called Halloween ‘attraction’ held annually at Proulx Farm in rural Cumberland, with the fictional Orléans Asylum for the Insane serving as its fictional backdrop.

It boggles the mind how a community service club like Orléans Kiwanis could find it acceptable to be teaching our youth that people with mental illness are to be feared.That denigrating people with mental illness as “bitchy, whiny inmates with very bad attitudes” is somehow all in good fun, in the spirit of the season.

Try telling that to the parent who’s lost a child to suicide, the #1 cause of non-accidental death among Canadian youth. Or to any of the 1.2 million Canadian children and youth who will struggle with mental illness this year.

This $20-admission ‘attraction’ features, among other activities, “The Escapee’s [sic] Insane Wagon Ride”, where you get to witness the “live-capture” and “beheadings” of in-patients from our local (fictional) mental health institution. As if that weren’t bad enough, you can also partake in “Shoot to Thrill” where, for a mere $5 more, Kiwanis volunteers will “train” you to take part in the “interactive inmate shooting gallery.”

Yes, you read that right. Because apparently open season on the mentally ill is what we want to be teaching our kids?

To call people with mental illness “uncontrollable” “assassins” is irresponsible at best, perpetuating the myth that those with mental ill health are dangerous killers, when they are much more likely to be victims of violence. So say the stats.

Labeling people with mental illness as “insane” or calling them “crazies” further fuels stigma. It shames into silence those who struggle with their mental health. Stigma is the single biggest barrier to people getting treated for mental illness.

And by the way, every single word in quotation marks above comes straight from the sKreamers website. It’s in their promotional material. Seems no one has taught Kiwanis members how the language we use matters… a lot.

One would think a service club whose motto is “Serving the Children of the World” would discourage name-calling and fear-mongering. And want to encourage our children to seek out mental health help and support when they need it.

Although too late in the season now, Orléans Kiwanis and their partners need to abandon the concept of a Halloween “asylum attraction” for 2018. It’s horrendous, hurtful and harmful to the 6.7 million of our fellow citizens diagnosed with mental illness. And its damaging to the Kiwanis brand.

But you can still do something about it for this year. Send Orléans Kiwanis an e-mail. Get your pumpkins from somewhere other than Proulx Farm. Spread the word by sharing this blog post.

And instead of heading out to sKreamers this weekend, donate the equivalent admission amount to The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health…and do so in the name of the Kiwanis Club of Orléans.

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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in Blog

 

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Ronaldo, Euro Cup 2016 and Why a Former NHL Enforcer Blocked Me on Twitter

(TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE, METHODOLOGY)

Dear Georges Laraque,Laraque1

I am deeply saddened by yesterday’s events. Not by the fact that you blocked me on Twitter – I wasn’t Following your account, in any event – but saddened by what blocking me says about your understanding of mental illness, suicide and stigma.

Don’t get me wrong, Georges, I truly feel for you. What sports fan cannot relate to the heart wrenching loss of a favoured team? Where I feel no empathy is in your choice of words to express the agony you felt in France’s Euro Cup 2016 defeat at the hands of a Ronaldo-less Portugal.

Je vais me pendre.

And for the bilingually-challenged, you even made a point of repeating this message through a second tweet, this time in the language of Shakespeare:

“I’m gonna hang myself.”

That’s what you said, Georges. Word for word. Not once, but twice.

You suggested that your words were just a common expression, a figure of speech. Not one that I’ve ever heard, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. We don’t exactly travel in the same circles.

Now, I’m a reasonable fellow. I truly believe there was no ill-intent on your part. And I also believe you when you say you weren’t being serious. But by the same token, you also said you weren’t joking about or mocking suicide.

You see, Georges, that’s the whole point of why people are upset about these tweets of yours. Regardless of your intent, the opposite of being serious is being light-hearted. Funny. Flippant. Trivial. Pick your own antonym.

Every single day, we lose 11 Canadians to suicide, primarily due to untreated mental illness. That’s almost 4,000 people in Canada every year, leaving an estimated 32,000 loved ones behind to grieve. They deserve more from a public figure like you than light-hearted, flippant “figures of speech” that allude to the painful loss of a loved one.

So yes, I called you on it on Twitter. As I have called out many others and will continue to do so. The only way we can S.T.O.P. the stigma around suicide and mental illness is by calling out the use of language that Stereotypes, Trivializes, Offends or Patronizes people living with mental health issues. Because stigma leads to the shame, isolation and despair at the root of suicide.

In your heart, you know I and others were right to call you on it. Or you wouldn’t have subsequently deleted your trivial tweets and related replies. Thank you for that, by the way. Recognizing the cause of an issue – and trying to limit the harm caused – is half the battle.

But here’s the other half to complete your act of contrition: put out publicly a heartfelt, sincere apology to the survivors of suicide loss for your poor choice of words. Use your public platform to promote suicide prevention.

And become known as a different type of Enforcer, one who lays down the law on language that stigmatizes suicide and mental illness.

Be well,

Jean-François

a.k.a. @DysthymicDad

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2016 in Blog

 

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Black Dog Blokes’ Blog Featured Fellow: Michael Kasdan

This week’s Black Dog Blokes’ Blog guest post is an abridged adaptation of Michael Kasdan’s story, originally published anonymously on The Good Men Project on August 28, 2014, under the title: “Depression. A Part of the Human Condition.

MichaelKasdanIn the not-too-distant past, I was one of those people that believed that there was no such thing as depression. That everyone gets sad. That it was a cop out. A sign of weakness, by those who can’t cope.

I was wrong.

As I learned from experience—it’s real. Very real. There was a time when, over a period of months, I became absolutely paralyzed. Every day was too much. Everything shut down. I couldn’t write. And I couldn’t think, except for the cycling fears and the anxieties. I wouldn’t interact with those around me. I didn’t want to be around anymore.

It was the lowest period of my life, the nadir (or perhaps the culmination?) of my battle with depression. And coming to terms with my depression—even just talking about it, has been incredibly difficult.

♦◊♦

I didn’t begin having periods of depression until about five years ago. The truth is, I still feel confused about why it happened. I still feel shame about it. I still often feel that it’s “not me,” and that it makes me a weaker person. I question why this happens to me, what is wrong with me.

In these past five years, I have had recurring “episodes” that vary in intensity and length. Some of these episodes have been cripplingly paralyzing and excruciating on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute level. They seem to be triggered when a number of stressors occur at the same time, situations that seem impossible, that I can’t think my way out of. Perhaps it’s my mind powerfully saying “I don’t like this,” but at the same time not seeing a path forward. So it rebels. I’m not sure.

What does it feel like?

“Living with depression is the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s almost like an auto-immune disease of the mind. You turn on yourself.”

 

Living with depression is the loneliest feeling in the world. It’s almost like an auto-immune disease of the mind. You turn on yourself. You tell yourself you are worthless, you are ugly. The brain simply shuts down and takes with it the centers that you use to make decisions, to be funny, to be interesting, to feel love, to see beauty, to experience joy. It’s full on lethargy, and a powerful malaise takes over.

It’s absolutely exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything. I can’t check emails without great fear and anxiety. I am seized by severe – almost ridiculous – procrastination. I cannot make even the most basic of decisions. And it builds on itself; undone tasks stack up, as time passes it gets harder and harder to reach out to friends, harder even to get out of bed.

Even though I know it’s illogical, even though I know I should reach out to friends, stop procrastinating, exercise, do the things that make me happy, I simply can’t. Worse still, when I am in its clutches and those around me try to help by suggesting I do all those things, the fact that I can’t makes me feel even more hopeless, more worthless. It’s a loneliness feedback loop, and there seems no way out.

And then it just stops.

For me, coming out of depressive periods happens suddenly and for no apparent reason. It’s not like I have all these wonderful tools and use them to work my way out of it. Nope. I just hold on for dear life until it ends. And it does. When it’s ready, the fog lifts, the sky clears, and I feel strong and energetic, creative, playful, sharp, and intellectually curious. I feel “myself” again. Usually within a few days. Thank God.

♦◊♦

Though I hope to never go through another episode, having been through recurring depression, in a strange way, also makes me feel more alive. It has forced me to be more in touch with my emotions. I feel like I’ve grown, like my focus on what’s important and what matters to me is sharper. I have also learned through this that the best thing we can do is to be open about it and be kind to each other. To watch our friends and our loved ones. To support each other. To be patiently loving.

And being sensitive to the pain and needs of others makes me feel more human. It makes me feel more connected to the world; not less. Like depression is part of the human condition.

When you think about it, that’s really incredible. Because that feeling of connection, it’s the exact opposite of loneliness. That this feeling can spring from the ultimate loneliness and pain of depression is hopeful, invigorating and impossibly delicious.

 
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Posted by on June 6, 2016 in Blog

 

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