The Binkley Report more on mental illness

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. This week in ...
The Binkley Report

A Close exception on mental illness

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

08 June 2012 — A long career in journalism leaves one leery of the usually vain, shallow and self-centred species known as celebrities. They gain undeserved space in newspapers and magazines and far too much attention on radio and television. They make grocery store checkouts loathsome places.

With that caveat, I will make my second exception to my anti-celebrity status — the first being Jean Beliveau, the hockey star who personifies a class act.

Actor Glenn Close made a presentation to the anti-stigma conference in Ottawa put on by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Her remarks were all about living with mental illness and not about herself. She related personal experiences of her family to make her point about the need for society to recognize and deal with mental illness. She called it “the last and most challenging civil rights issue of our time.”

Close’s family has struggled through troubled generations including several suicides. Denial wrapped her family “in decades of incredible foolishness. The stigma of mental illness silenced them.”

Even she couldn’t talk about it until sister Jessie asked for help in subduing thoughts of suicide. Her sister and nephew Calen Pick live with mental illness. “They have their up days and their down days but they’re still here.”

Close has joined the campaign to make the rest of us aware of the struggles of people with mental illness and the need for society to do a lot more to help them. She supports her own non-profit organization, BringChange2Mind, to help raise public awareness.

The challenge for the mental health community “is to create the message that will change public and media attitudes toward mental illness,” she added. “How do we get to the next step of public recognition of the reality of mental illness and helping sufferers to lead a productive life? They can recover, the condition can be managed, and they can achieve their potential. It doesn’t have to be debilitating.”

How strong is the stigma surrounding mental illness. Veteran CTV announcer Lloyd Robinson told the conference about growing up with a mother rendered dysfunctional by bipolar and other conditions. Her condition was so unpredictable that he never dared invite a friend to his Toronto boyhood home in case she was having a bad day, which would bring shame and embarrassment on him.

Yet he couldn’t bring himself to talk about his mother’s plight in public until a couple of years ago. Or to stop worrying that he might have inherited whatever triggered her malaise.

Society’s attitudes are shifting slowly, he added. Yet half of Canadian parents say they would hide a mental illness in their children. “The stigma influences and frightens people.”

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt recounted her experience with post partum depression after the birth of her second son. Fortunately, her doctor recognized her condition and got the then president of the Toronto Port Authority back on track.

But she remembers the fear of the stigma and wants federal labour laws and programs to reflect that reality. And she wants to encourage people suffering from mental illness to speak up so Canadians come to understand the scope of the problem. “I like to think we have an open mind about this, but it’s not really true.”

David Goldbloom, chairman of the Mental Health Commission, said that 10 years before holding an anti-stigma conference was unthinkable. “Now we can get corporate sponsors.”

The next challenge is to make sure that treatment is available for everyone who needs it, he added.