Author Topic: The Realities of Stigma Reduction (Publication in Association with MHW)  (Read 1736 times)

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Changed Thinking
December 28, 2014UncategorizedKyle Irwin
Submitted by Natalie Gillis

“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Leading people is not always easy. It is an art that takes practice. When we are talking about dealing with stigma, or educating the public on a topic that they may not know much about, or could use more information on in a holistic sense, I turn to a book by John C. Maxwell. “How Successful People Lead”, gives a very easy to understand outline on how some of the most successful people conduct themselves. He expresses right from the beginning, that when it comes to changed thinking it is not automatic and that it is difficult.


Influencing a way of thought can take time, analysis and patience. If you are dealing with a group of individuals who have been traumatized, and/or have lost faith in a lot of previously established security blankets, so to speak, it will take much longer. In becoming a better thinker, Maxwell (2009) explores the realms of how exposing yourself to good input, good thinkers, thinking good thoughts and then acting on them, creates room for one’s emotions to lead to more good thoughts.


Repetition, good or bad, will create who someone can be prone to becoming. Seeing the bright side of things can sweeten up a situation that may have left a sour taste in your mouth. What makes you happy? What excites you? Is it your children? Volunteering? What about playing your guitar or doing physical labour? In essence, what makes one feel good about themselves and can be seen or considered as being constructive, without vanity or for ulterior motives, is what separates the happy people from the ones who wear a mask. I wrote a quote about ten years ago, “If someone fools you, you are not the fool. They are, because temporary kicks with deception don’t last long-term to be happy. They’re the ones missing out on what happiness really is – this behaviour is foolish.” Instances that are truthful and honourable will create long term results.


This article is a teaser for the online booklet that I will be releasing. A short exercise for you before travelling on through the rest of what I have is from the chapters of Maxwell’s book. If you wish, use the internet to research them more, and be as creative as you like with examples for each. If it seems too much for you right now, you can always come back to it later:


A) Cultivate Big-Picture Thinking

B) Engage in Focused Thinking

C) Harness Creative Thinking

D) Employ Realistic Thinking

E) Utilize Strategic Thinking

F) Explore Possibility Thinking

G) Learn from Reflective Thinking

H) Question Popular Thinking

I) Benefit from Shared Thinking

J) Practice Unselfish Thinking

K) Rely on Bottom-Line Thinking


The reason I am addressing these listed ways of thinking as being important, is because the information, humour and history I speak of will be more appealing to those already open to what I am saying. To be successful in addressing stigma and educating the public on mental health within a discombobulated society is no easy feat.

Early on in April of 2014, Dr. Laura Hayes released an article, “Mentally ill people aren’t killers. Angry people are”, that touches on relevant and modern clinical operations, actions, and traditional methods of Western society (for this example) and how it perceives the behaviours of angry people. What caught my attention was how she was able to effectively differentiate between individuals who are angry, and who are mentally ill. I have read many articles, both scholastic and news related, in ten years on mental health, yet in my experience this one had captioned the difference perfectly.

As you will come to see throughout my magazine issue (to come), I will talk briefly on the history of how mental health theories and treatments have evolved since the Greeks. Anyone can talk about where theories and practices come from. Anyone can write a paper or news clipping on who said this and who said that. What anyone hardly describes is the bell curves in history where there were years of despair and then years of enlightenment. What I would like to hearten readers with is that although there are new developments in intensities of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder cases (because there are many corners in the ‘boxing ring’), in light of it all, some background should be able to offer encouragement, and with what is to come; we are somewhere in the middle of a despair to an enlightenment bell curve.


First, let me explain a few things:


Violence, as Ms. Hayes explains, is a “product of anger”, and it is not a product of someone’s mental health diagnosis. She furthermore voices how it is an easy scapegoat to use when societal norms are heavily violated by the actions of someone, or people, and lives are taken, in some instances. For those intimidated by someone with any mental disorder, if they act out, and from my experiences, it could be from anger of how they are: being mistreated; ignored, isolated, neglected; misunderstood; lonely and/ or perhaps angry, etc. with what they have gone through. An important measure is to not judge the behaviour of how someone might be acting out, but rather practice your own behaviour of finding out the root cause of their potential pain. Some people act out sexually, others may drink or take drugs. I’m not going to get into the cases of Anna Nicole Smith, Miley Cyrus, Justin Beiber, or any celebrity that may not have particularly favourable reputations in the masses. At the end of the day, my heavy point is, they are not the same as they once were when we might have known them before.


When we look at political leaders in different parts of the World they can share the same kind of negative distinction. We see and hear about disheartening incidents almost daily, in some fashion. In other situations, the soldier suffering in silence who commits suicide may have taken his or her family by surprise. This person had been in the dark long enough for them to consider this unfortunate ending. Their own personal feelings of despair had anchored them to feeling distraught. This became the norm in their life; they, most likely, became a different person than they might have been before, because of experience(s), whether they or others recognize this or not.  Whether the behaviour is silent or outright obvious, it is a justified explanation through my empirical (witness) evidence as becoming NORMAL to THEM.


What is normal? Normal is anything that is regular, practiced or seemingly accepted by one’s culture or close social circles, or at length, to them personally. What might be considered normal in the Western side of the World, is not the same as Eastern thinking, or the Middle Eastern ways of thinking. On the flip side, we don’t need to look far to see that there are large similarities in any part of the World; that being anger and violence. When we see domestic abuse situations, whether it be a man overpowering a woman, a woman overpowering a man, or perhaps they are equal in unhealthy behaviours toward the other, we typically tend to focus blame on at least someone. The usual statements/ questions are, “Why doesn’t she leave him?”, “She deserves it”, “He is too good for her”, or even, “They deserve each other”. One or both may come from dysfunctional backgrounds, and where this information is good for understanding where someone’s position is due to their history, what needs focus is on how these two people fused into a situation that has become -normal- to them. Violence and abuse, not power, for this particular debate, is when people are angry.


What I mean by this is that no matter if people have a mental illness and/or psychiatry injury, are being abused at home, or there are extremist acts circulating through terrorism and war, violence is a behaviour that can happen when things become normalized, and/or when people “break”. Things become normal when people actively take part in something and it continues over a period of time. “We are a culture awash in anger” (Hayes, 2014), and this is true. Everywhere on Facebook, for example, we see negative comments, hate groups, and tongue lashing sarcasm. Social connecting through the internet and cell phones has not only begun to destroy any in-person connectivity, but it has grown to be one of the most destructive measures of confronting issues, that being behind a screen. In sum, if you brand the cow enough times, or sometimes it just takes one instance, it is most likely going to kick at some point. It’s really not a rocket science experiment if you think about it.


One of the reasons that I have chosen my approach in educating people online, the way I have been, is, because of how I work within the historical context and development of psychology, and how we are communicating and behaving in our era. The crucial matters at hand are not only to raise awareness of mental health, anti- stigma/oppressive measures, but also what we need to focus on and how to understand that any person can be angry, and what pro-active strategies are being made effective toward our stage of enlightenment. This, as a whole, continues in my upcoming work with further details and explanations.


When I have gone to academic institutions ranging from high school to university levels to give presentations on mental illness, I have crafted my work to best describe mental health terms as simple as possible. Often times I use metaphors, puns and analogies to add some humour and flavour to the information. This, as a result, has made the atmosphere less intimidating for listeners and has opened the door to making the environment more receptive to what I am saying.


To break it down there are three descriptions of the unwell mind that, to this day, causes conflict for debate: mental disorder, mental illness and mental disease. When I look at the term mental disorder I use a picturesque way of simply seeing someone who is like a cluttered desk. Their organization may be all over the place, they might be acting out of line and they may be emotionally jumbled. This is a very basic description for those experiencing depression, for instance (I am explaining the wording, and not generalizing or expanding on the details of each individual).


Mental illness is as simple as when someone is, again, not feeling well. Due to their mental disorder, which also falls under the psychology umbrella of mood disorders, etc., they can feel physical symptoms of feeling weighted down. The psychological effects of depression and mania does in-fact have significant consequences on energy levels within a person. Miraculously, there are now blood tests being established to confirm depression as being a physical illness, which I will touch on later on (within the booklet).


This now leads into the explanation of the term “mental disease”. Of course, you cannot physically acquire a mental illness by being around someone. You can, however, obtain second hand depression if over a period of time you become sad because of the company you keep. Your genes or biology can also play a part in what you may or may not develop at any course of your life time. Much like Alzheimer’s, mental illnesses like depression, bipolar and schizophrenia do not discriminate and its onset can occur at different stages of life.


In sum, mental disorder, mental illness and mental disease all culminate within the same definitions to explain someone who is potentially unhappy, very elevated, or not in contact with reality. Again, these are very simple explanations for the terms at hand and should not be seen as a tell all end all. Each case and person should be assessed appropriately. It is important for anyone to ensure that treatment continues. For those who wish to attempt taking control of their lives without, per se, clinical methods I encourage those choices. A structured and predictable environment is very important, consistency is crucial, and setting realistic goals is meaningful. Maintaining positivity and support will help the development of independence. Act on your values.


Hayes, L. (2014) Medical Examiner: Health and Medicine Explained. Available at: (Accessed: 11/06/2014).

Maxwell, J.C. (2009). How Successful People Think; Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life. Edition. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.