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Letter: Don’t let mental health stigma take someone you love

If you, or someone you know is struggling, please seek help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Curtis Vanderloo asked SooToday to publish the following letter about his mother's death last year in the hope that by sharing her story, it might help someone else suffering from the stigma of mental illness.

 

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On March 31, it will be the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. 

She passed suddenly and unexpectedly, only she didn’t pass suddenly. 

She died by suicide. She killed herself. She took her own life. She died by her own will.  

Only it wasn’t unexpected, she was depressed. 

She was suffering deep grief related to her own parents passing. 

She had Seasonal Affective Disorder, she was manic.  

 

 

If you, or someone you know is struggling, please seek help.

 

 

 

 

Curtis Vanderloo asked SooToday to publish the following letter about his mother's death last year in the hope that by sharing her story, it might help someone else suffering from the stigma of mental illness.

 

*************************
On March 31, it will be the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. 

She passed suddenly and unexpectedly, only she didn’t pass suddenly. 

She died by suicide. She killed herself. She took her own life. She died by her own will.  

Only it wasn’t unexpected, she was depressed. 

She was suffering deep grief related to her own parents passing. 

She had Seasonal Affective Disorder, she was manic.  

 

None of this was medically diagnosed; it is my own personal opinion.  

Yes, I said it. She died by suicide. 

That horrible word that means you must have been “crazy”, “nuts”, “loony” or whatever other word used to describe an illness you can’t see.  

I watched my mom’s sudden passing for five or six years. 

Each year, her mood and outlook on life would get a little darker. 

Each year, just as winter was ending and just before spring was finally about to show it’s bright shining self, she’d break. 

She’d lash out angrily at someone and push them out of her life. 

Or she’d make a life altering decision, that didn’t seem very logical, at the very least, to me.  

I watched her help everyone around her. 

When I suggested she help herself, that wasn’t an option she was willing to explore. 

When I took her to her doctor and explained some of her behaviors, he gave her some antidepressant medication, he knew she needed it.

She took the medication for a week, stopped taking it and wouldn’t let me go to the doctor with her anymore. 

After that when I took her for a surprise birthday trip, she feared I was taking her to the “loony bin”. 

She told me that a few months after her birthday surprise. 

She feared me after I tried to help her.  

Her father had taught her that if you took pills for your mind, you were “crazy”. 

She didn’t want to be crazy. 

She took pills every day, Advil or Tylenol for headaches or her paining legs, thyroid mediation for her thyroid that had been removed. 

Those pills were for her body, not her mind, so she could justify the difference. 

She was taught that if you have a mental illness, you are “crazy”. 

She didn’t want people to think she was “crazy” or on pills (for her mind). 

It didn’t matter that no one else would know, she knew it and the fear of others knowing was too much.  

That is the power of the mental health stigma. 

She chose to die rather than risk the chance of someone knowing she needed help with her mental health. 

Mental health for her meant weakness and she helped others, she didn’t help herself. 

My mom was stubborn. I come by that very honestly.  

In the year leading up to her death, I could tell she was seriously considering suicide. 

Her thoughts and words were different, her actions were different, her body language was different. 

I sounded all the alarms bells I knew of.  I told other family members, told her doctor, tried to get her to go talk with someone.  

I discussed depression and suicide with her openly. 

When I suggested to her that she was depressed, her defense to me was that she went to work. 

She couldn’t be depressed if she worked, and she knew how to hide her depression from others. 

She socially adapted, so to anyone on the outside she was living a “normal” life, free of any mental health issues.  

Our healthcare system is broken or maybe it never worked right in the first place when it comes to mental health. 

Unless someone is in the act of committing self-harm, there is very little you can do for someone else. 

They must want to obtain the help themselves.  

Perhaps our mental healthcare system isn’t broken; perhaps it is the way we judge people with mental health issues. 

The fear we project on them, the words we use to describe someone that needs mental healthcare. 

Must be hard to obtain the help they need, when they fear what others will think and say.

My mom wasn’t against health care. 

She was a personal support worker and tried to make people’s lives more comfortable. 

She recognized that if an arm was broken, it needed a cast to heal.  

I think the stigma for mental healthcare is that people can’t see what needs to be fixed. 

You can see cancer, you can touch an open wound, you can hear bronchitis, you can experience deafness, you can smell gingivitis.  

You can’t see depression. 

You can’t touch or smell or feel or hear all other types of mental health issues that there are. 

That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. That doesn’t mean they aren’t treatable. That doesn’t mean they are manageable.  

Two weeks before my mom took her life; I looked in her eyes and specifically asked her not to kill herself. 

She told me she wouldn’t. I didn’t believe her. 

I couldn’t do anything else except wait for the phone call telling me she was gone. 

When I got the phone call, I calmly looked at my wife and said “My mom is dead, I think she did it." 

I didn’t get to experience the shock everyone else did. 

I was angry about that for a long time. 

The anger has given way to grief and depression. 

My body is sore when it shouldn’t it be, and I’m tired after a “proper” night’s sleep. 

I don’t experience the same joy of all the things I once did.  

As spring comes, I can feel my mood improving, the pressure of winter lifting. 

I am very certain I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and I am going to try using phototherapy next year. 

If that doesn’t work, I’ll talk with my doctor about getting some medication.  

If I don’t take care of my mental health, I’ll be a hypocrite. I’m too stubborn to be a hypocrite.  

Don’t feed the stigma associated with mental health. 

Be compassionate for those dealing with it, and understand what they are diagnosed with. 

Choose your words with care.  

If you have a mental health issue, don’t hide it.

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