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Program helping dispel stigma of mental illness

Courtney Beadle and I (Georgina Wyder) are third-year BScN students currently doing our mental health placement at the Canadian Mental Health Association and Step Centre in Fort Frances.

We have had the opportunity to eliminate our own biases regarding mental health and experienced the TAMI program.

Talking About Mental Illness, or TAMI, is a program developed co-operatively by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, and the CMHA.

The local branch of the CMHA has implemented this program in Fort Frances High School in order to make young men and women, usually aged 15 and older, aware of the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

It was developed in response to the community’s expressed need for information on mental illness.

The information session usually consists of people who have, or have experienced, a mental illness. It offers youths positive influences, attitude, and knowledge about mental illness.

The program focuses on teaching that the stigma associated with mental illness is not necessarily true, such as mentally ill people are violent or incompetent.

This is untrue—a person living with a mental illness, when treated properly, can maintain a stable income, have a driver’s licence, cook meals, go to school or work, and are able to take care of their children.

When a person is not well, they tend to be more anti-social and refrain from outside contact.

During the session at Fort Frances High School last Tuesday (Nov. 6), there was a panel of five courageous women who shared their experiences with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and anorexia, and borderline personality disorder.

To be able to speak in front of 24 high school students takes a lot of courage.

These women answered questions the students had prepared in advance. Some of these questions included, “How do you know when you have a mental illness?” and “How do you ‘fix’ it?”

It was particularly important to create an awareness of normalcy of these individuals, who are just like anyone else in the community and surrounding areas. They own homes, drive their own cars, and take care of their children.

Many people are unaware of the age of onset of a mental illness. It is important to address youths with this topic as studies have shown that the signs and symptoms usually begin to occur during early adolescent and continue throughout adulthood.

Some people who suffer from mental illness do not have the support of their families and usually are pushed aside, and their illness is blamed on puberty (hormones) or drug problems.

There should be a great concern in dealing with adolescents experiencing signs and symptoms of a mental illness.

Some of these symptoms would include drug and alcohol abuse, under-eating or over-eating, inappropriate behaviour or a change in their normal behaviour, difficulty concentrating, lack of emotion, inability to experience pleasure, and inability to socialize.

Young people with disorders such as schizophrenia and mood disorder have a very high risk of attempted suicide.

Additional information is available to parents, teachers, and students to answer additional questions.

The TAMI program is helping eliminate social stigma regarding mental illness and hopefully will continue to educate those who have questions.

More information can be obtained from the local CMHA office at 274-2347 or by visiting www.cmha.on

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