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Michael Crain helps dispel myths about mental illness

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The biggest barriers to receiving treatment. I think it depends on the individual. I think sometimes a barrier can be that a person knows that there's something going on or going wrong but they don't want to acknowledge it. And I think that's very fair.  It's awfully difficult to admit that you have a chronic illness. I think another barrier can be finding the right help for you. I know for me, I've been through several different programs and services and some of them just didn't work. Along those lines, I think also it can be a matter of just finding out what works for you. Not so much in terms of services, but just in terms of what it is you're doing. So I know for me, as an individual, support groups don't really help. Sitting in a room with other people listening to their troubles brings me down more than it helps me. Those are the main ones I can think of. I think it depends, as well, like when I think of my experience in Kelowna versus here, I really really admire people in small towns, because it's so much more of a struggle. There's less services available. It has a tendency to be one big organization offering services, and if you have problems with that organization you're stuck. So it can depend on the setting and situation as well.

Do you think stigma and discrimination plays a part in barriers to treatment?

It can, I think both internal and external for sure. But I think it depends...part of what I'm trying to say about finding what works for you. Internally I think it can get in the way for sure. Not only services, but just in life in general. If you think less of yourself because of it you're going to have trouble finding your way. But externally, I think that most of the external stigma that I've encountered that's out there has not come from people who have wanted to help. So yes, it's there. You can see it in the media, but there's also positive examples in the media. You can see it everywhere. But at the same time, I think that most of the's finding your way. And it's finding the right people.

What do you think individuals can do to tackle stigma and discrimination?

I think it has to do with the way it's framed. And the way that I try to frame my having Bipolar Disorder is that I have a chronic illness. I also have diabetes. I know there's a lot of comparisons made between the two, and so on and so forth, and I'm certainly not going to do that, but if you think of it as a chronic illness that needs to be managed, I don't see that as stigmatizing as saying that you've got something that makes you crazy … Disclose when you're comfortable. Make people aware who want to be aware. Don't fight against people who aren't interested in learning more or becoming aware. Be comfortable.

What advice do you have for individuals living with a mental illness?

Be well. Accept what you can accept. I know for me, a lot of times I hear from people, you seem to be doing really well. You seem like you're so well. And they don't see me behind closed doors.  They don't see me being exhausted in the afternoon at times, and having to have a nap. And they don't see me when I'm feeling low, [because] I withdraw at those times. And that's fine. But, yeah, just to accept your shortcomings, or what it is about the illness that could be a shortcoming, and to learn as you go. And to be as well as you can be.

What about the families and loved ones of individuals with a mental illness?

That's one I've really become aware of in the last year. And my heart really goes out to them. I, as you probably just have noticed, live with my folks. And I'm very fond of them, and we have a symbiotic relationship in that they help me manage the illness, and I also help them because they're elderly, and as I mentioned, my mother had breast cancer, so I helped her in that time when she was sick. The thing that I hear from families a lot when I see them, when I meet with them, and when I talk with them one on one is fear. A lot of fear. And I know when I was sick, my parents worried about me a lot, and so they put that on me a lot.  So the biggest thing I try to say to people is that only makes the situation worse. Try not to put that fear so much on them if you can. I realize it's there. But try not to, [because] it does make things worse. The other thing I try to emphasize is that right now is a time that family involvement is starting to happen.  And I think that's a wonderful thing. The '90s was a time when the doors were closed, at least here in Vancouver. And if somebody wanted to be involved in a loved one's treatment plan, they were told you can't be, we can't tell you anything, you're shut out. That's changing, and I think that's wonderful. There's still this wall where if the person with the illness says I don't want my family involved, then the family can't be involved. But there is this desire to include the family in things, which I think is great on a lot of levels. But I think with families, patience is a big thing.  Just to say try to be patient. Try to learn about the illness, try to help your child, and accept where your child is at. Your child may be rebelling, or loved one may be rebelling. It doesn't have to be a child; it could be a spouse, whatever. And accept where they are, in terms of if they're not doing well, maybe it's time to rest. Or if they're doing really well, and you want to suggest maybe you should try doing more. Wherever they are...           


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To read the case study co-authored by Michael Crain, visit:

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