JOIN THE STIGMA-FREE ZONE MOVEMENT

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Stigma-Free Zones, but what are they really? And how can you become part of the movement?

It’s difficult to ignore certain ongoing cultural narratives that are problematic at best and harmful at worst. They isolate and divide us as communities, and as individuals. Our goal is to create tolerant, compassionate, and inclusive spaces that help facilitate a more positive and proactive narrative surrounding stigma.

Dave Richardson, Co-founder of the Stigma-Free Zone movement, notes that living stigma-free is a journey; it doesn’t happen all at once. Becoming a designated Stigma Free Zone, whether you represent a school, organization, riding, or geographical area is a process.

So what does this process look like?

The first step is to educate ourselves, and develop awareness of the judgments (both conscious and unconscious) that we all make in a hundred different ways every day. Our assumptions inform our perceptions and define not just how we see ourselves, but how we understand and relate to others. One way we can challenge these biases is by sharing our personal stories with one another.

To become a designated Stigma-Free Zone, we encourage you to bring in a professional presenter to your school, business, or organization. An important component of these presentations is educating people about the trauma caused by bullying and stigmatizing language and behaviors. Our presenters, including co-founder Andrea Paquette, have overcome incredible challenges with respect to their mental health, and are able to speak with compelling authenticity about their experiences.

Stigma-Free Pledge

Becoming a Stigma-Free Zone means making a commitment to creating a safe, welcoming environment based on principles of tolerance and acceptance, without fear of ridicule, harassment, and bullying. Currently, we are working with a broad range of community leaders, including representatives from businesses and organizations, school staff and students, and MLAs in provincial ridings.

In addition to presentations, we provide resources for creating a Stigma-Free environment, including helping you complete a Stigma-Free Pledge and preparing posters with calls to action to help you live free of stigma. Schools, for example, receive a full toolkit and designation, and a Champion from that institution is then chosen to work alongside our Stigma-Free Zone Task Force to continue creating meaningful activities within the organization.

Regardless of your background or circumstances, everyone struggles and everyone has a story. Stories are a universal language that unite us as parts of a shared human narrative, and they are what brings us together in compassion.

Finally, living a stigma-free life isn’t just about learning tolerance for others. It’s also about self-empathy and releasing ourselves from the burden of judgment and internalized shame that we carry with us in our daily lives, and learning to live a life defined by authenticity, joy, and self-acceptance.

Are you ready to live stigma-free? Start changing the conversation today?

Contact us today and let’s cultivate a Stigma-Free culture in your school, business/organization and/or geographical area!

Thank you and together we can stop stigma!

Co-authored by Jenn Mclean and Robyn Thomas

Pacific Autism Family Network – Stigma-Free Zone with Ambassador Lucas Gates

Pacific Autism Family Network is the first charity in Canada to be working toward their Stigma-Free Zone designation.

They have a team of Stigma-Free Champions that includes Lucas Gates, Ambassador, Laura Lombardi, Vice President, Foundation and additional staff members with the support of Co-Founders Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia and Sergio Cocchia.

The Stigma-Free Society is excited to be working with this very effective organization and having all of the Stigma-Free Zone criteria complete in the upcoming months.

 

Andrea Paquette AKA Bipolar Babe – Public Salon Talk in Vancouver

Andrea Paquette, AKA Bipolar Babe, shares her personal story in a brief 8 minute talk to over 500+ people at the Vancouver Playhouse in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Children’s Mental Health Program

“Is mental health when your tooth hurts?”, this is one of the endearing answers I received when talking to grade 4’s about mental health and stigma.

While I love talking to teens and adults, the elementary kids I speak to since launching our Children’s Mental Health Presentation Programming have a special place in my heart. Grade 4 is the age when I started experiencing my own mental health challenges. I went from a happy kid who loved school and soccer and anything creative to one of the many people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly referred to as OCD.

Many people are shocked to learn that elementary school kids often struggle with their mental health. Aren’t they too young to be depressed? Shouldn’t they just be worrying about life on the playground? Well… like anything mental health related, it happens a lot more than we’d care to think.

But hey… that’s okay! The moment we take away the stigma associated with mental health and teach kids from an early age that it’s just as acceptable to talk about a sprained ankle or a sore tummy, we can equip them with the tools they need to take care of themselves and to reach out for help when they need it.

Even as a ten-year-old I somehow sensed that the intrusive thoughts and painfully time-consuming compulsions I was experiencing weren’t “normal” and were something I shouldn’t talk about. Because of the lack of education and awareness around mental health then, I kept my burden a secret. I still had good grades, I was still “achieving”, but I was also deeply suffering.

When we add stigma to mental health challenges, it’s a scary obstacle that is hard to face. But when we strip away the shame and silence that give it power, mental health issues are just like any other challenge—hard at times, but surmountable. And like any challenge, if treated with the right care and compassion, a person can transform that pain into empathy and strength.

Program Summary: Click HERE

 

 

Blog Author, Robyn Thomas, Children’s Mental Health Education Program Presenter

Program Funded by the Edith Lando Foundation

Natalie’s ‘Coming Out’ Story…

So I guess this is my ‘Coming Out’ story, as I have spent the past few years battling with my identity; the illness vs me. Now it’s time to come clean to my wider circle of friends and family, and perhaps to myself as well.

The signs of bipolar were always there, a diagnosis merely highlighted the facts. I was often met with the label of ‘too intense’, ‘hypersensitive’, and in some cases just pure ‘crazy’. The lookers and pointers where always quick to tell me something was wrong, but until I decided to realize it for myself, everything was just ‘fine’; fine with roller coaster highs and fine with lows that could not be reasoned with. Until now.

Now I stand proud with my bipolar label.

What does this mean for me? A bipolar diagnosis sheds light on some of my past thoughts and actions and it now puts my future into perspective. I take daily medications and use self-care strategies. I work on a colour-coded mood scale, that depicts my darkest and brightest states. I never thought I would be so at home with a label, a chart, even an identity, but you see bipolar is not my identity, it is deep rooted in who I am as a person. A person full of love, happiness, creativity and excitement. Someone who, with the aid of said colour-coded-chart, can pin point her mood at any given time and proactively see the potential pitfalls coming her way and react to them accordingly.

Coming to terms with, and accepting this illness has been by far my hardest task to date – even given some of my most intense episodes and hospitalizations. The realization that there is a manageable life to this eternal illness and having the strength to push on with, and uphold the strategies I need to stay in a safe place, has been nothing less than an epiphany.

So here I stand, guilty of the highs that send me into psychosis and allow me to talk to god, as well as the lows that dig a bigger hole than a JCB excavator! I no longer anguish over the past, but instead, look forward to the future. I now know I can take each day for what it is with the help of some very strong and supportive family members, friends and helpful local organizations such as Stigma-Free Zone. I have returned to University in a bid to learn this illness inside out, I continue to hold down a job and care for my four-legged friend Sandy the Chiweenie (although she may well be the caregiver). I recognize the difference between self-care and selfishness and continue to grow as a person, each and every minute.

I’d never wish this illness upon anyone, but for now I am happy to say it is very much a part of me.

I am Natalie, a daughter, a friend, a lover, and I proudly manage, not struggle, with a disorder called Bipolar 1. I am Natalie, and I have bipolar.

VGH UBC Hospital Foundation – Me Too Conversations Vol 6 – February 23

SAVE THE DATE:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

VGH_MeToo_Vol6_poster_VancouverThe statistics are not changing. One in every five Canadian is affected by mental illness and the stigma is as strong as ever. ‘Me Too’ is bringing some of the brightest minds and speakers to the table to continue the conversation and smash the stigma. Join us for our final event of this six-part series.

For Me Too Vol. 6, our key note presenter is sports broadcaster and talk show host Michael Landsberg, who will share his own personal experience with depression and the ways in which stigma has impacted his journey. You’ll also hear from Kimberly Rutledge and others.

Expect to leave this event feeling inspired and hopeful, with a better understanding of what stigma is and how we can take action to bring mental illness out into the open.

SPEAKERS 

Michael Landsberg
Michael Landsberg is one of the most prolific and recognizable sports broadcasters in Canada, having hosted nearly 10,000 TV shows over his career with TSN/CTV. In 2009 he shared, on air, his struggle with severe depression and saw first-hand the tremendous impact his sharing had on others. Blessed with exceptional insights and a passion to make a difference, he tells his journey to whoever will listen, coining the phrase #sicknotweak to describe how he sees mental illness. In 2014, Michael was honoured with the Humanitarian Award at the Canadian Screen Awards. To this day, he remains committed on a daily, even hourly basis to sharing his struggles without shame or embarrassment, so others will be empowered to feel the same.

Kimberly Rutledge 
Kimberly Rutledge is 20 years old and currently studying science at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. She is a huge advocate for mental health as part of www.jack.org and believes that there is so much power in conversation. It is her hope to curate change by creating positive spaces where there is an open dialogue and no more silence.

Monica McAlduff
Monica is currently the Director, Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Acute, Tertiary and Urgent Services with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). As an avid advocate for clients and families, her current focus includes improving patient care in the Psychiatry setting and involving Family and Clients in Clinical Practice decisions about their care. Monica has over 20 years of experience in Health Care: Mental Health and Substance Use, from front line nursing through to her current leadership role. For the past several years, Monica has led the Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Redesign which is transforming mental health and substance use programs and creating greater access for all Vancouver adults. Monica is a member of the Douglas College Psychiatric Nursing Program Advisory Committee and works within her community and abroad challenging and inspiring health service providers to create better access to services for all populations.

EVENT DETAILS:
Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017
In-person: Doors 6:00pm | Start 7:00pm
Live webcast:  7 pm PST | view the event from this web page
Where: SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC

RSVP
To RSVP for this event, please email rsvp@vghfoundation.ca

Join the Me Too conversations online by sharing ‘me too’ stories on Twitter with the hashtag #MeTooVan and by tagging @VGHFdn

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES
Recovery is possible. Want to start taking action now? Download our PDF to join the conversation on mental health and find out where to go for support.

This event is sponsored by the Andy Szocs Foundation, Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, Vancouver Coastal Health and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.

Source: http://vghfoundation.ca/

Jenny’s Inspiring Story – The Impact of the Teens2Twenties Support Group

JennySeven years ago, I met Andrea Paquette and seven years ago, she and the Bipolar babe Teens2Twenties program saved my life.

Back then I wasn’t who I am today. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of seven years old and it was at that age that I first attempted to commit suicide. Even being this young I knew I didn’t want to live because the feelings I had were too strong and I couldn’t understand how everything could be so painful. I thought life would always be that way and it started a very self-destructive cycle that took years to break.

Over the next several years I would be shuffled from foster home to foster home, my mental health would deteriorate rapidly and unfortunately, I would begin to normalize abusive situations. I developed a serious eating disorder, drug addiction and would go through various intense psychotic episodes which would result in hospitalizations due to my Bipolar Disorder.

Over the years, I would be hospitalized repeatedly due to self-harm. At my worst, I received forty-seven staples for self-inflicted wounds just to be released from the hospital and given no help what so ever, I was told I was a lost cause by doctors, nurses, friends and family.

When I aged out of foster care, I was put on permanent disability and was not expected to ever recover. My case was “difficult” and I wasn’t reacting to therapy and medication properly so I felt there was no way I would ever escape the torture that I was feeling on a day to day basis. I was unable to work, go grocery shopping, fill out forms or do normal day to day tasks such as cooking or cleaning. If I opened my eyes and reality set in, I would start crying and take more pills to fall asleep because being awake hurt too much.

At 20 years, old I met Andrea and I had no idea that it would change my life, she and the Society gave me purpose and a community ofshutterstock_126377570-2 people I could relate to. She gave me work and volunteer experience, she provided me with tons of resources such as guidance on how to assess proper psychiatric care, counseling and I attended the Teens2Twenties Support Group over the years. She eventually hired me as a group facilitator for the Society’s Women’s Group, supported my art and mostly importantly supported me. She and the Society saved my life.

Now I’m twenty-seven, I’ve gone to school full time and I currently work at a hair salon with the position of assistant manager and advanced stylist. I no longer suffer from psychotic episodes and my Bipolar Disorder is considered to be in stable condition, I no longer self-harm, I recovered from my drug addiction and eating disorder. I sell my art, volunteer, practice yoga and dance and I’m a very active part of my community.

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Andrea, she and her Society literally saved my life and all I want is for others like me to have the chance I did!

Jenny

Shaw – GenWhy TV – Stigma Free Zone-Interview w/Andrea Paquette

There are numerous stigmas that exist in society such as mental illness, racism, sexual orientation, that contribute to our perceptions and attitudes of people. The Stigma-Free Zone programs support and educate individuals, especially youth, to manage their personal mental wellness. GenWhy TV talkes with Andrea Paquette at the Shaw Studio.

Andrew’s Fascinating Story: Psychosis to Recovery is not an Easy Road

stigma free zoneMy alarm clock read 3 am. I lay awake, unable to sleep. It was the fifth night in a row that I’d gone without sleep. Five nights is enough to break anybody, let alone someone in the early stages of mental illness.

I’d been struggling the past few months. My grades weren’t as great as they I would have liked, I was becoming increasingly isolated, anxious, and moody, and my mind persistently raced. A slump, I reasoned. But my “slump” didn’t explain Charlie.

I lit a cigarette, and waited. I had come to expect nightly visits from Charlie. I hadn’t told anyone about him and I mean no one would believe Charlie existed. To be frank, even I was doubtful. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And there was certainly something devilish about Charlie.

My mind had, over the course of a year or so, become consumed with religious ideas.  Odd, considering I didn’t associate with traditional religion. Prior to my encounters with Charlie, I never would I have considered myself a religious guy, but midway through my second year at the University of Victoria, I was convinced I was possessed. This was my only explanation for the supernatural entity I knew as Charlie.

When Charlie spoke to me – his many voices clamoring inside my head – he’d tell me I was the reincarnation of Christ. Charlie often came to me with visions of the future. I saw myself leading a revolution, and deposing the corrupt and deceptive powers that be.

Let’s backtrack a bit. I was using drugs – cannabis – and was drinking heavily on the weekends. I consider the University of Victoria to be a party school, and I found myself immersed in the campus culture of reckless indulgence. But substance abuse is normalized among students, and among young adults in general. During the Paris expat era of the 1920’s, Gertrude Stein referred to post-war twenty-somethings as “lost.” Looking back, I realize I too had become lost; just a lost boy looking for his next “feel good” moment.  I would have fit in well with Stein’s “lost generation.”

My friends were beginning to worry. I was no longer the pal they once knew.  I had taken on a disheveled and rough around the edges kindshutterstock_162565103-2 of look, and my behaviour had become erratic and odd. Engrossed in the twisted fantasies that filled my head, I stayed up all night watching “The Exorcist,” chased phantom silhouettes around my landlord’s backyard, and had assumed a vacant thousand-yard stare. I was a shell of my former self, unrecognizable to my innermost circle.

It had become clear to everyone around me that my mental health was deteriorating, and quickly at that. While my friends and family advocated for help on my behalf, I edged closer to a full blown psychotic break.

I had a lot on my plate.  Not only was I facing psychosis, but I had been battling a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression for a year and a half.  When I finally saw a psychiatrist, at the age of 19, I was almost immediately diagnosed with psychosis NOS (not otherwise specified), OCD and a mood disorder. A couple of years later, I was re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (part bipolar, part schizophrenia) and OCD.

My substance abuse complicated matters. Following my diagnosis, I explored hard drugs: cocaine, opiates, opioids, and a diverse array of GABA-ergic medications. I became a recreational, and at times habitual, user.  My drug use exacerbated my illness, and suicide or overdose quickly became a dangerous reality.

I’m 30 now, and having lived the past thirteen years with a mental health diagnosis, I can honestly say, I’m not out of the woods yet. I may be past the hospitalization phase of my illness (I have racked up a total of 20 or so hospitalizations since being diagnosed), but new challenges loom on the horizon; integrating back into society, learning to cope with day-to-day stressors without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, and repairing damaged relationships will not be easy.

shutterstock_140221207-2Once again, they say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. This saying shouldn’t be taken at face
value; it’s a metaphor. And it fits well with the topic of mental illness.  Perhaps it is those of us who’ve lived with mental health diagnoses – not the devil – who work so hard at convincing the world we don’t exist.

Above all other reasons, it is the stigma associated with mental health conditions that keeps us silent and hidden. We’ll sweep all traces of mental illness under the rug, just to give off the impression of normalcy.  I haven’t escaped stigma unscathed, but I deserve credit where credit is due. I’ve persevered.

It’s still early days, but I’ve come so far. Acceptance is the first step on the long road through recovery. Accepting my illness and the consequences of living with a mental health condition has been one of my greatest and most hard-earned accomplishments. The devil has his tricks, but I’ve got an ace or two up my sleeve, and the greatest trick I’ve ever pulled was admitting to myself that I was ill.

~Andrew

Why Take Part in Giving Tuesday?

stigma free zoneDONATE HERE 🙂

Stigma-Free Society is launching our end of year CHAMPION CAMPAIGN this #GivingTuesday!

#GivingTuesday is a national day dedicated to giving. It is an initiative responding to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and is a day when Canadian charities, businesses, and individuals come together for one simple purpose: to celebrate giving and give back.

Starting on #GivingTuesday – November 29 until December 31, 2016, we are raising funds to expand our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes’ Classroom Presentations Program, and we invite you to become one of our champions!

We have been offering school education programs on mental health and stigma-stomping since 2010, and annually reach over 3,000 youth- and we’re not stopping there! With your support we aim to expand our program to an additional 30 schools in Metro Vancouver and Victoria, BC.

That is 30 extra schools! The cost of reaching each of these locations is approximately $300 per school, which makes our CHAMPION CAMPAIGN goal $9,000.

HOW YOU CAN BECOME A CHAMPION

You can make a HUGE difference in a young person’s life by making a donation today.

Every gift receives a full tax receipt and major gratitude, however with a $300 donation, or $25 monthly commitment, you will underwrite 100% the cost of one of these programs, and receive these additional benefits:

  • verbal and written recognition as a school Champion on our extensive social media contacts;
  • report on the impact of your gift;
  • a story written by a participating student; and
  • an exclusive invitation for you and a guest to join us for a presentation to see your gift in action.

DONATE HERE 🙂

Help us reach our goal by December 31, 2016! Whether you make a one-time gift or become a monthly donor you are helping to change perceptions and attitudes about stigma and bringing mental health support to countless youth.

Join the movement!

___________

What is a Stigma-Free Zone Superhero Classroom Presentations Program?

stigma free zoneThere are numerous stigmas in society, such as mental health issues, that contribute to many young people feeling alienated and not being accepted and understood by their peers. This Program encourages students to be agents of change, and become Stigma Stomping Superheroes, by learning about the stigmas that cause others to be seen as ‘different.’ Students learn about the trauma caused by bullying and recognize the negative consequences. Most importantly, youth are prompted to take action against stigma in their school and as part of their daily lives. The Stigma-Free Zone Program also offers students the opportunity to “claim” their classroom, and eventually their school, as a ‘Stigma-Free Zone.’

Watch Andrea Paquette, Founder and Executive Director’s personal story and the creation of the Stigma-Free Society. Courtesy of Coast Mental Health – 2015 Courage To Come Back Awards.