Tag Archives: Mental Health

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.


Posted by on October 26, 2017 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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Featured Fellow: Martin Binette

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my mental health recovery journey, it’s the power of the personal story. As such, I’m opening up The Men’s D.E.N.’s blog to guest posts from guys struggling with or in recovery from depression. I’m very pleased to kickstart this initiative with a guest post from Martin Binette, founder of “Entre les deux oreilles” (Tr: Between the Ears), a Québec-based organisation dedicated to fighting stigma and raising awareness of mental illness and brain health issues. For our inaugural Bro Beat Bloke Blog, here’s Martin’s story…

It’s been 20 years, almost to the day, since I experienced BINETTE Martinmy first episode of major depression. I was almost 20 years old and there wasn’t any hint that I was about to go through the most difficult period of my life.

Up until that point, my life was what is considered as ‘normal’. No particular drama. I wasn’t a victim of abuse, harassment or bullying of any kind. I was as normal as it gets. Anxiety, sure, I had some. Occasional mood swings came and went. But, that happens to all of us.

Truth be told, my mental illness snuck up on me out of nowhere. In fact, I still remember our first encounter as if it were yesterday. I was in bed, just about to fall into a deep sleep when, all of a sudden, my heart started pounding. I thought it was trying to break out of my chest the same way a prisoner tries to break out of jail, by any means necessary. Breathing heavily, I tried to get out of bed and get some help. I was dizzy, my hands were numb and I felt like there was a 200 lb. anvil on my chest.

By the time the paramedics arrived, I managed to settle down somewhat. I vaguely remember asking if I had just suffered a heart attack.

“No. Have you had any panic attacks in the past?” the paramedic asked. I was confused, as if he was speaking a foreign language.

“A panic what?” I answered. “Can that kill you?”

The months that followed were a nightmare. Completely disjointed, I could barely go about my daily business. Every action required a Herculean effort. Every decision felt like a trigonometry problem. It was like I was trapped in quicksand or swimming against a strong current.

I was trapped in a body that wouldn’t function. It was like my brain decided to take a vacation. “Sorry, we are closed.” The lights were on, but nobody was home.

While my friends were savouring life’s beautiful moments of youth, I barricaded myself in my apartment. They were happy and smiling while I was apathetic, a hypochondriac and a slave to steady stream of negative thoughts.

That’s when ‘the words that kill’ were pronounced.

And not just by anyone.

My father, desperate and exasperated from seeing his son in such suffering, looked at me straight in the eyes and said:
“ENOUGH!! Pick yourself up and give yourself a kick in the ass*!”
Those words hit me just like a Mike Tyson uppercut. Right on the chin.


After the umpteenth emergency room visit and the umpteenth confirmation by a doctor that I hadn’t suffered from a heart attack or that I didn’t have a flesh eating disease, my father, desperate and exasperated from seeing his son in such suffering, looked at me straight in the eyes and said:

“ENOUGH!! Pick yourself up and give yourself a kick in the ass*!”

Those words hit me just like a Mike Tyson uppercut. Right on the chin.

It wasn’t from lack of effort or determination. It wasn’t laziness. But it was difficult, impossible even, to give myself a kick in the ass. The machine was broken and the mind has succumbed to its new master: fear.

*Author’s note: It is physically impossible to give yourself a kick in the ass, by the way. Try it. It’s like touching your elbow with your hand from the same arm. Mission impossible.)

The problem, I know very well now, was never my hind parts. Far from it. It was between my ears. I was suffering from a mental illness and there wasn’t enough kicks to the rear end in the world that would change a single thing.

I needed help and support. The help came, finally, after a few months when a doctor gave me his diagnosis: major depression with panic attacks. The little blue and yellow pills were included with the diagnosis.

The support, however, came from a particular and unexpected source. From my girlfriend at the time, my mother and my brother were there for me too but surprisingly, support also came from my father.

My father comes from a generation of men for whom mental illness was a sign of weakness. A man doesn’t cry. A man doesn’t ask for help and, a man definitely does not suffer from a mental illness. Stand up, put on your big boy pants and walk!

However, taboos and prejudices towards mental illness are not all born equal. Some are born from ignorance or lack of education. Often, it is from a desire to ridicule or to judge. Sometimes, however, the source of the prejudice can come from a much deeper source.

That day when my father uttered those words will remain forever etched in my memory. I remember seeing, in the blue of his eyes, a deep pain and an immeasurable sadness.

A long time had passed before I finally grasped the real meaning of those words uttered by my father that day. It was a cry from the heart. An immense pledge of love towards his son launched through the only words available to him at the time.

It was also at that time that I realized that in order to change his perception, his way of seeing things, was to break the silence and open up a dialogue with my father about my mental illness.

Since being diagnosed over 20 years ago, much water has flowed under the bridge. I stopped counting the number of episodes and panic attacks. I lost count a long time ago. Although I consider myself incredibly lucky to be under the care of an excellent psychiatrist, I know that depression and anxiety will be a part of my life for the rest of my life. It is like a marriage without the possibility of divorce.

What reassures me is knowing that I have the unwavering and unconditional support of my family and friends.

I also know that, if there is a storm on the horizon, my father will be there to look me in the eye and say: “Come on, let’s talk about it.”

Albert Einstein once said: “It is easier to disintegrate an atom than to break a prejudice.”

My father is certainly not a physicist but he is living proof that a prejudice can be disintegrated and reduced to nothing.

A bit of open mindedness, listening, and love is all you need.

It takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And…a kick in the ass is not a requirement!

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Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Blog


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