Share mental health stories to end stigma

When it comes to mental illness, current treatments are effective and can help people all over the world

PEOPLE AROUND the world are more similar than we think, and when it comes to mental illness, current treatments are effective and can help people all over the world who need them.

And people need to learn to have empathy and compassion toward others with mental illness as we aren’t naturally empathetic toward those who are different, says Delaney Ruston, a doctor and filmmaker, whose latest movie Hidden Pictures, which looks at people with mental illness in five countries, will be shown globally on Mental Health Day, Oct. 10, including here in Terrace.

“One of the best, most effective ways to decrease stigma is to get to know people with mental illness and to see them do better with treatment,” said Ruston.

Ruston, whose father was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic before she was born, went through many years of shame, frustration and fear, and ended up hiding from him.

After a decade, her dad was more stable on a new medication, and given her experiences as a doctor and mother, she decided to connect with him again.

“Once I started to reconnect with him, I realized how powerful it is to share stories, particularly because it helps us get people to the right treatment and services they may not know about or that are hard to access,” she said by phone from her home in Seattle, Washington.

After her first two films – Crisis in Control: A new type of living will about her dad, his disease and her struggle to understand forms which would allow her father to indicate his choices of treatment and who should be the decision maker if he had a mental crisis and Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia, about  her attempt to reconnect with him and understand him – she wanted to try to tell people’s stories from abroad, in India, South Africa, China, France and the U.S.

The World Health Organization estimates that 450 million people around the world suffer from a mental disorder, including learning disabilities, dementia, depression and epilepsy, to name a few.

She chose France as it has been ranked as number one in the world for health care so she wanted to see if that was true for mental health care.

There she met Steven Geiger, who tells his story in which, despite being honest about being in hospital, doors were slammed on him as he tried to get work as a teacher.

What hit home from his story is that we should be farther along in understanding and having empathy for those with mental illness, she said. It was difficult to get anyone to talk to her in China or India.

She thought an advocacy group would be a good place to find subjects because people there would be open about mental illness but China had no advocacy groups, she said.

India had very few non-governmental organizations dedicated to global mental health. She had heard that people in India do better with schizophrenia because they’re more included in the family and are allowed to farm and live in the community.

However, when she was in India, the reality was quite different. People believed that someone with mental illness was demon  possessed and the community would separate itself from that family, she said.

It’s often thought that you can’t change these types of beliefs but when members of a community talk about the biology of mental illness in their community and the community sees the person get better with treatment, they can change.

“When an organization came in and educated the community and got this wonderful 25-year-old treatment, then it became a much more inclusive community,” she said. While the belief has been that other countries have different ways of dealing with mental illness, the fact is that the treatments we use here are good to use all over the world.

“What’s most exciting in both high and low income countries is that simple interventions with not that much training have a significant impact,” she said, referring to how the same techniques we use here can help those with mental illness and their families in other countries.

And while many other countries don’t talk about mental illness, that barrier has been coming down in the U.S. and Canada in recent years, said Ruston.

“People want to talk about it (mental illness). They want to get support and not live alone and be isolated and if we can get that barrier to come down, it’s going to make a huge impact internationally,” she said. Telling people’s stories also empowers them.

“My goal is really to get all of us at the grassroots level to continue to share our own mental health stories,” said Ruston, adding she hopes that the film will instill in people a little bit of compassion and a lot of curiosity to learn more.

For more details on the film screening, see Movie under City Scene on page B5.

 

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