The Bell Let’s Talk campaign brings a lot of attention to the stigma around mental illness, year after year. While a hashtag campaign alone won’t change the way an entire society has looked at mental illness for decades – centuries even – it at the very least is a conversation starter. A conversation that we have to have.
What we see at the YW every single day, especially in our Skills Development program Women’s Addiction Recovery Mediation, is that mental illness is often closely tied to addiction and vice versa – a topic that we are going to further explore on the blog this month.
To get us started, we asked our bloggers:
How do we as a society deal with people who struggle with addiction and mental health issues?
“She’s losing it” just about sums up how my friend first talked about her mother Pearl, who is in a home. She is almost 80 years old, dementia… it happens, right? Except that that is not the entire truth – not in Pearl’s case, as I recently learned during a late night conversation with my friend.
Pearl is an alcoholic. She has been drinking pretty much for as long as my girlfriend can remember. As kids, it was a game for her and her two younger brothers to “find the bottle” – find where mommy hid her booze this time. What sounds horrible when she says it out loud today, decades later, was just part of her everyday life as a kid. Her mom wasn’t angry or violent, she still prepared dinners, made sure they got to school on time. It’s just that once dinner was served, she retreated with a drink and some pills while the kids and their dad ate dinner together. It was just how it was.
It was when their dad passed away that Pearl stopped functioning – quite possibly because her husband had covered for her or filled in where she was lacking much more than anyone was realizing. My friend and her siblings had their own families by then, jobs, houses, busy lives. Pearl’s state quickly deteriorated and when my girlfriend had to call the ambulance one too many times, after yet another drunk phone call after a fall, she had to make the decision to find a home for her mother.
Pearl has been in the home for almost ten years now, has stopped drinking and is so demented, likely due to the brain damage the drinking has caused, that she has long stopped craving a drink or if she does, she cannot acknowledge or communicate the want or need anymore. She does not remember much but she is happy, content.
None of this is strange to me. People are alcoholics, some of them manage to turn the corner, others don’t. What is weird though is that my girlfriend is more comfortable telling the world that her mother “has lost her marbles” than to admit: my mother is an alcoholic. To me, this is indicative of the mindset we are faced with in society: old people become forgetful, odd, that knowledge is as old as the hills, mind you it has never been as well understood in its causes as it is today. But someone being an alcoholic! God forbid! Addicted to alcohol? Why, no! How shameful. That only happens to uneducated people who had bad childhoods and grew up in sketchy neighbourhoods.
Is that not how so many of us still think?
It is that very mindset that makes it so darn difficult for not only the people who struggle with addiction themselves but also for each and every one around them, the people who love them, to speak about it.
I look forward to this month’s blog posts and hope that they, too, will be a conversation starter – because we need to talk – mental health AND addiction.