The act of taking one¹s life is commonly viewed with anger, resentment, and
blame. The person who did it is called selfish, cowardly, and wrong for
making his or her family suffer.
The death of Robin Williams, however, has brought out more compassion and
sorrow than judgement and indignation, and for the first time since social
networking became a prominent form of communication, people are talking
His suicide is seen as the sad abandonment of hope, his fans wish they could
have done something for him.
This outpouring of sympathy is not always the case.
People traditionally find mental illness something to joke about. Terms such
as “funny farm” and “looney bin” are not considered forbidden terms,
ridiculing “schizos” and “nut jobs” is still socially acceptable forms of
humour. Why would anybody suffering from an illness that has such slangs
attached to it want to ever come forward and ask for help?
They suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs, losing their friends,
losing their reputations, and what’s left of their dignity.
In doing so, they often lose their lives.
On Aug. 21, 2010 Barbara Swanston’s life was shattered when her son, Terry,
died by suicide in the grip of a profound depression. She has struggled to
come to terms with his irrevocable act.
The Campbell River Suicide Awareness Advocate talks openly about how she and
her family have coped with suicide bereavement, how the stigma of mental
illness and suicide stops people from reaching out for help and what you can
do to make a difference.
She wants to make the unspeakable, speakable.
She said her deepest hope is that she can help to eliminate the stigma
around mental illness so no one will feel so ashamed, worthless, or hopeless
that they complete suicide rather than seeking help, because we all have
mental health and anyone can develop a mental illness.
Even though we know depression and mental illness are deeply intertwined
with suicide, we still don’t treat them as the public health issues that
Sick people either go to the hospital, or they get “locked up” in a “rubber
room” at the “chuckle palace”.
Canadian Medical Association in its annual report card on health care
confirms that mental illness still a source of socially acceptable
The survey found almost half of Canadians, 46 per cent, think people use the
term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour. One in four Canadians
are fearful of being around those who suffer from serious mental illness.
Half of Canadians would tell friends or coworkers that they have a family
member with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent for a diagnosis of
cancer or 68 per cent for diabetes. Most Canadians, 61 per cent, would be
unlikely to go to a family doctor with a mental illness, and 58 per cent
would shy away from hiring a lawyer, child-care worker or financial adviser
with the illness.
Does the same discrimination exist towards people who have cancer, ALS,
Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease?
No, because these diseases don’t make people uncomfortable, they bring out compassion, not contempt.
But mental illness is a disease that anyone can get at any time. It does not
discriminate and neither should you.