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Overcoming My Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are a leading cause of disability in the world. These include depression, addictions and personality disorders. In Canada, 1 in 5 people experience a mental illness annually. This is more than double that of diabetes. However, the real number may be much higher as a result of the pandemic, and the fact people often don’t seek, or delay, treatment for mental illness.

I’ve recently completed a seven-week inpatient treatment for my depression, anxiety and anger. Looking back, I’ve probably been suffering from depression for years. My enjoyment of life had been slowly declining. I became irritable and hurtful to the ones I love. It accelerated through the pandemic as many of my go-to supports (swimming, socializing) were cut off.

While people often associate depression with sadness, anger is also being recognized as a symptom of depression. It can also be due to previous trauma. In addition, anger in men is quite common. At an early age boys are taught that emotions such as hurt, sadness and disappointment are not acceptable, and that crying isn’t allowed. Anger then becomes the comfortable emotion. It gives a feeling of safety as it’s an emotion of action and energy. However, anger can be destructive to the ones around you.

mental illness

Delaying Treatment for Mental Illness

Delaying treatment is common across a lot of diseases, but especially so in mental illness. This is due in part to the difficulty in recognizing the disease in oneself. Is it a few bad days, or something more? Once recognized, the stigma associated with mental illness is enough to deter people seeking care. There’s also a lack of obvious treatment options.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried counselling. For me, it didn’t work. Despite going to a number of counsellors, the approach was all the same, spending time talking. While it helped me understand some of the roots of my behaviours, it didn’t do anything else. I didn’t feel any better and my behaviours hadn’t changed. At the time I knew it wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what I needed.

As a result, I turned inward. I continued to exercise, began meditating and focused on my sleep. All good things to improve mental well-being. But I also poured myself harder into my work and thoughts of self-harm became a near-daily occurrence. I kept telling myself it’s okay to not be okay. This mantra soon became my crutch giving me permission to have bad days. Little did I know how my worsening mood was affecting those around me.

I also felt guilty at the thought of seeking treatment. Here I am with a great family, great job and lifestyle. As a white man, I’m privileged in society. I shouldn’t need help with my mental health. I was also worried I’d lose credibility—if I can’t address my own mental health, how can I help others?

mental health is health

Finding Suitable Treatment

It was in December 2021, when confronted by my family, I sought serious treatment. I called a crisis line to discuss my self-harm thoughts. This helped in the moment, but I was told if I feel I might harm myself to call 911. However, I knew this wasn’t something I wanted to do. Not because I didn’t want help, but because this again isn’t a reasonable treatment. In many cases after calling 911, the police are the first to your home. While well intended, sometimes these encounters end up with being forcibly removed from one’s home and taken to the ER to be sedated.

I saw my family doctor who prescribed an anti-depressant and started looking into local inpatient programs. Not only were they full with a long waiting list, but it was also a short-term fix with average stays of one week. Once you’re stabilized (not a harm to yourself or others), you’re discharged. None of the long-term treatment required for a chronic disease such as depression.

I turned to private programs and found one that seemed a good fit. Average stays were 6-9 weeks and patients see a psychiatrist twice per week and therapist once per week. There were daily lectures which covered skills for regulating emotions and coping strategies, along with homework and various recreational therapy. My family doctor encouraged me to attend.

Programs like this aren’t cheap and the reality is, most people can’t afford this type of care. While there were a number of patients (like me) who funded it directly, most patients were covered by employers of frontline workers such as police, firefighters, military, healthcare workers and workers’ compensation.

stop stigma for mental illness

Pushing Back Against Stigma

I’ve been asked why I’m so open with my experiences. It can be unnerving to open up and be vulnerable. But I’ve found most people to be supportive. I find it empowering to share and it gives me greater understanding in how I’m feeling. I’m also fortunate to have an employer that prioritizes mental health.

However, others aren’t so lucky and as a result, they choose not to disclose their illness. People who left the workforce to address their mental illness are often worried it could affect their job prospects as they try to explain why they have a gap in their resume. Others don’t have supportive family or friends, and are worried about social stigma. Yet others are from cultures in which mental health challenges are considered a weakness and talking about them is taboo.

I can’t say I’ve been spared this stigma. I’ve taken days off work when I’ve been overwhelmed but have made up other excuses. I’ve been told to go to counselling as if how I was feeling was similar to a mole on my skin that can easily be removed. Many people with a mental illness have often said that if it were cancer or heart disease it would be far more acceptable and treatment more available.

Some of the stigma for mental illness is rooted in the healthcare system itself. While billions of health care dollars are spent on preventing and treating cancer, heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, treatment for mental illness is a poor second cousin. Patients wait up to two years to see a psychiatrist. And mental illness clinics are few and far between. If the healthcare system can’t treat mental illness despite it being a costly and debilitating disease, how can society think any different?

While I feel a lot better, I know this will be an ongoing journey with a long road ahead of me. And just like the person with heart disease, preventing future occurrences requires a daily commitment.

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34 responses to “Overcoming My Mental Illness”

  1. Anne-Kristina Arnold Avatar
    Anne-Kristina Arnold

    Thank you so much for sharing this honest, raw and articulate post Scott. I was very moved to hear about your experiences and emboldened to continue to work for mental health and wellness for students, faculty and staff at SFU through our Mental Wellness and Engagement Committee.

    1. Thanks Anne-Kristina, and thanks so much for your leadership on mental wellness.

  2. Great post, thank you for sharing – it helps us realize that we are not alone.

    1. We definitely aren’t and too many people suffer in silence because of barriers to treatment.

  3. More power to you for sharing your journey, Dr. Lear!

  4. Diana Pengelley Avatar
    Diana Pengelley

    Thank you for sharing this, Dr. Lear. I saw that you were doing an inpatient program and was waiting for the blog update

  5. Ellen Bjornson Avatar

    Scott….I cannot say enough GOOD about you! Your blogs always amaze me expecially your honesty and unbelievable intellegence. Thank you – I look so forward to more of your amazements!
    ps….I am Ellen from Healthy Heart

    1. Thanks Ellen for your kind words! I hope you and everyone at HHP at doing well.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. Your story is one I can really relate to. I too suffer from depression. It is outrageous that the devastating impact of mental illness on our entire society is not taken seriously. I hope you will share more of your story!

    1. Thanks Teresa. Yes, there is much advocacy that is needed to get governments and healthcare administrators to look at prevention and long-term treatment. Take care.

  7. Nola Seabright Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your experience and best wishes to you for the future.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story Dr. Lear. It is good for many of us to hear we are not alone. You show courage and leadership in an area where many of us look for help and/or comraderie. I truly hope you got the help you need and wish you all the best moving forward in your journey. We are all in this together. Keep up the great work, I always look forward to your articles.

    1. Thanks for the supportive words. It definitely helps to talk about it and hear from others. Thanks!

  9. Daniel Ouellet Avatar
    Daniel Ouellet

    Wow Scott! What a courageous post. I feel for you and your whole family. Glad to hear that you have found some help and are on the road to health.

    1. Thanks Daniel!

  10. Jennifer Buckland Avatar
    Jennifer Buckland

    Thank you for your encouraging post and talking about depression. I have had clinical depression and know how hard it is to speak about. People need help now more than ever and as you say not everyone can afford to pay. Help is hard to access, for children and teens especially. Best wishes for your recovery, I remember your piece in the The Globe First Person but didn’t realize it was you! It was courageous of you to speak about it. Jennifer.

    1. Thanks Jennifer! And I hope you are doing well. Take care.

  11. Deep thanks for your very honest post! As a trainer and coach, I have shared this post with clients who are also struggling. And I, too, have struggled with depression, especially during these last two years of the pandemic. Again, thanks!

    1. Thanks Hugh! These last two years have definitely been challenging and regular supports such as gyms and community centres have been closed or restricted at times. Do take care.

  12. 1 in 5 people experiencing a mental illness is indeed a crazy statistic. Even worst is the fact that people don’t know where to turn for support and treatment. Personally, I had big struggles with depression too, but I never went to a therapist. I was ashamed to do so. This led me to read a lot of books and try to figure it out for myself. Several years later, I’m good and healthy. I even placed myself in a position to help others in a lasting way. I hope you are doing better Scott. If you feel like you can still improve, please let me know, as I’m sure we can have a very interesting and productive conversation!
    Please find me on my website: https://optimalhappiness.com/

  13. Hi Scott, I truly admire your courage of sharing what you have experienced these years. The honesty and openness will be able help people who are in the similar situation. I think it is a demonstration of your compassion. We did not have too much time to chat about this in our last outing, but look forward to seeing you in the coming weeks/ months.

  14. I have heard it said that depression is anger turned inward. Thank you for your courage in opening up and telling your story. It is great that your employer is supportive of mental illness and seeking treatment. I am one of those folks who did not find / has not found such support in the workplace for my bipolar condition.

    1. Thanks for your comment and sorry to hear that about your employer. This is, unfortunately, very common in some of the other people I’ve talked to. I’m hopeful that as we get more used to talking about mental health and illness, we can change things.

  15. I have been looking for an inpatient treatment option for my ptsd and anxiety. Can I ask where you went?

    1. Sure. I went to Homewood Health Ravensview. They have a special program for people with PTSD. I hope you’re able to get the support you need.

  16. Thank you!

  17. I agree. I find that understanding in the workplace is reflective of the personal associations of employees to someone with a mental health condition. People who have a family member or a friend with a diagnosis are that much more likely to be supportive. I guess it’s a matter of finding those folks. 🙂

  18. I think I have started following your website after a course I took back then ( I believe it was HSCI212). Occasionally I would talk to my bff about your lecture, and our memories of that course were very fun (not only I met my bff in the health science program at SFU, but also your teaching style). I have to be honest that during that period my academic semesters, I had very hard time with my own mental health. Now, reading this post through LinkedIn, I really appreciated your thoughts, opinions and emotions.

    1. Thanks so much for reaching out. It’s great to hear from you and that you have fond memories of my teaching 🙂 . University can definitely be tough on mental well-being and I’m sure you’re not alone. I hope you are doing well now. Feel free to reach out if there’s anything i can help with.

      1. oops HSCI 211 not 212. Great to see you continue teaching the same course. I’m doing well, looking forward to your posts on linkedIn from time to time. Perhaps we would have some work came across to each other in the future?!

  19. […] I learned this the hard way. I was worn out, not sleeping well and (unknowingly) dealing with depression. I was regularly irritable and generally unhappy. And this affected the people around me. Looking […]

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