D.I.F.D.; D.I.F.(Insert Initial of your friend)

February 4, 2012

Here I am, enjoying a great game between my beloved Leafs and the despised Ottawa Senators.  The game is going real well with  my team up 5-0 and it looks like it’s going to be a huge win for us.  But I find my thoughts being on something else…

This weekend’s game in Ottawa happens to also be a promotion for D.I.F.D., which stands for “Do It For Daron”.  D.I.F.D. is a youth driven program that is focused on raising awareness and conversations about youth mental health.  Daron Richardson is the daughter of NHL player Luke Richardson.  On November 12, 2010, she took her own life after a long struggle with mental health illness.  Daron was 14 years old.

Watching the game but thinking about Daron, I felt incredibly sad.   I was reminded of my own struggle with depression…the long period of darkness, despair, fear and hopelessness.  The fear of the stigma of being on medication.  The feeling of walking up to the pharmacy counter for the first time with an anti-depressant prescription and feeling like every eye in the store was on me.  Misunderstanding from people who were close to me…all those memories came back.

Looking at where I am today, I feel so fortunate.  Millions of Canadians struggle with mental health illnesses (1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness at some poin in their lives)…many of those stories have tragic endings.  But they don’t have to.  If we learn to talk about it openly and honestly, if those of us who have experienced mental illness share our struggles and our stories to encourage others, perhaps more people will open up about their own issues and receive the support they need.

In my last concert “Crazy Hope” which was dedicated to raising awareness for mental health issues, people told me afterwards that the concert had opened doors for conversations.  Thinking about Daron tonight, I realize that I must keep talking, keep making music, keep tearing down the stigma associated with mental illness, keep opening those doors for conversations so that stories like Daron’s can have a different ending.

Chances are you know someone who is struggling with a mental health issue.  I invite you to get involved and help.  Talk with them.  Research to find local programs and services that is available.  Encourage them to reach out for help.  D.I.F.D., Do It For Daron, Do It For Your Friend.

14 comments

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Joshua February 7, 2012 at 11:16 am

Alfred,

This mental health issue is just an excuse for people to get attention or to not take responsibility for themselves.

Sure, there are cases where there may be chemical imbalances in the brain, or other things, but for the most part, we really do have more control over our minds than we think.

How we think, our thinking patterns, what we focus on, all have an affect on how we feel, and how we perceive life.

So I don’t buy into this mental sickness issue, I think it’s a joke.
Personally I have gone through seasons of depression because of heart break or disappointments. And to get out of it, I would have to learn to train my mind and to have more healthy patterns of thinking.

Alfred, I’m sorry that you had some depression, and I don’t think that you needed medication. I think you have much more control over your own mind than you think you do. No more drugs Alfred!

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Alfred February 7, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Joshua:

One of the benefits of a blog like this is that it provides a platform for people to exchange personal opinions and ideas. I certainly respect the fact that you have a right to your own convictions and opinions. However, allow me to respond and try to put things in a different perspective:

If you have cancer, and I come along and tell you, “Joshua, this whole cancer thing is a joke. You don’t need all this chemotherapy medication.” Among your many responses, you may question my medical qualifications and ask what professional/medical basis do I have to make that claim.

In a similar way, the statements you made above beg for the same challenge. What is your professional/medical basis for making such claims? A diagnosis of mental health illness is not a “personal opinion” but a medical fact. You and I have never sat down once to discuss my diagnosis of depression. Yet you feel qualified to dispute and dismss the professional diagnosis of 2 medical doctors and 2 professional certified therapist. Does that sound reasonable to you?

I raise this with you not to pick a fight, but to hopefully point out as an example for other readers the sad reality of the stigma our society still has concerning people with mental health illnesses. And why the work of the many mental health services providers are so needed.

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Joshua February 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

Alfred,

May I ask you what specifically your doctor says when he diagnosed you with mental illness? On what basis do they say that you have depression? and what do they say is the cause of it? Is is a chemical imbalance or just an emotional issue? I suppose that is what I’m getting at.

I’m just saying I think that we have much more control over our minds and feelings than we think.

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Joshua February 8, 2012 at 9:27 am

Alfred, I’m just trying to be logical and to take a critical point of view. I can tell you that many times doctors can be wrong and I know that from my own experience. Western medicine only focuses on symptons and not core causes in treatments. So what did your doctors say was the root cause of your depression?

So my question is what is the core cause of depression? Is there a chemical imbalance, an issue of diet, or patterns of thinking that wrong, or perhaps a demonic influence?

Taking drugs is a common approach to western medicine, and I’m not totally against that, but let’s find out the root cause and treat it accordingly.

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Joshua February 8, 2012 at 11:35 am

The fact that it’s called mental illness kind of implies that you have no responsibility for how you got the mental illness in the first place.

There are a lot of sports athletes that have gone through mental illness, partly because of the pressures they face in the sports they play. IF they had recognized that earlier, they could have prevented their mental illness in the first place.

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Alfred Lam February 8, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Joshua

Thank you for your comments. Without getting into specific details of my personal situation on a public forum such as this, allow me to again use this exchange of comments as an illustration of the misunderstandings, myths, and stigma that we struggle with as a society when it comes to mentai health.

If someone is diagnosed with liver cancer, chances are you will not ask the person the same questions that you posed in your comments. Most likely (at least I hope) you will not bring about issues of “personal responsibility” (“What did YOU do to get this?”) or feel the freedom to dismiss or question the diagnosis (“This is all a joke” “You don’t need this medication”, “You have more control over your liver than you think”…)

The mind, by far and by comparison is THE most complicated organ in our body. We know much less about the mind than we do, say, the liver. Yet for some reason people feel they are qualiflied to make sweeping, judgemental statements about illnesses related to the mind. For instance, in your comments you talk about “real causes” of mental illnesses, implying that you know. The truth is just like cancer and many other illness, mental illness have causes that are yet unknown to us, or are too complicated to nail down to just one or two factors.

In your previous comments you indicated you are a Chrisitan. I would argue that as a Christian, we should come to an issue like this with humility (acknowledging that there are lots we don’t know) and especially compassion. Imagine a father who lost a son due to mental illness. Imagine a mother with a child struggling with depression. How would they feel if they read some of what you said?

Incidentally, Feb 8 (today) is “Let’s Talk” day, specifically encouraging people who struggle with mental illness to talk about it. We all have a responsibility to create a non-judgemental environment around us, so that people feel safe opening up to others about issues of mental health, without fearing they’d be judged, belittled, dismissed, or put down.

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Joshua February 9, 2012 at 9:35 am

Alfred,

Check out this article recently posted in the Toronto Star on depression:

http://www.thestar.com/sports/article/1127731–stephane-richer-darryl-strawberry-clara-hughes-tell-michael-landsberg-of-depression-struggle?bn=1

To make my point clearer I will just start quoting things for the article from credible sources like Stephane Richer.

Stephane Richer:

“Richer reached similar desperate straits in 1995 while with the Devils, but believes his depression had its roots in his being a shy, only child who received little positive feedback at home and then was uprooted from his school and friends at 14 because of his hockey skill.

“I always say hockey choose Stéphane Richer; I never choose hockey,” Richer said in the documentary and repeated last week in an interview with the Star.

He was in the NHL at 18, won a Stanley Cup his first season and scored 50 goals two years later, but he never felt comfortable in his own skin.

“The media and the people in Montreal, they really hurt me,” he told Landsberg. “I came to Montreal, I was 19, I was a kid. To be criticized, to be judged, to have so many stories around me — I was gay, on drugs, party all the time. . . . I’m a pretty shy guy, I’m pretty quiet, I just want to be home. I was dying inside.”

Just days after being on his second Stanley Cup winner with New Jersey, Richer was speeding along in his Porsche 911 at night and decided to turn the car’s headlights off just as he was coming towards a sharp curve in the road, hoping he would never make the turn.

Richer got the dealership to pick up the car the next day. He made a lot of changes in his life, got professional help and cut the cord with people who “just liked the name on the back of my jersey; they didn’t like the person inside.”

Alfred, yes i am a Christian, and the bible does say a lot about the mind and our thoughts, and how important it is to think, perceive the world correctly, how we need to be responsible for our minds. I am not going to quote bible verses but I think you know what those verses are.

Also from my own experience, I can tell you how I feel about life, about a certain situation, is directly linked with how I think, see, understand the situtation. For example, I have had a few failed relationships with girls in the past, I went into a period of despair and sadness and pain, because this was how I was feeling. But to get out of it, I had to change my thinking, realizing that God has a plan for me, that there is a special person out there for me, that this feeling is only for a little while, that I need to think more positively.

I think depression happens when I allow my feelings to tell me what reality is, and to think destructive thoughts.

So Alfred, this is not just my own person opinion, I have the opinion of a former NHL player and a story from my own personal experience where I could have gone into long term depression but didn’t.

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Alfred Lam February 9, 2012 at 11:24 am

Thanks again Joshua for the comment. The Stephane Richer story is part of the documentary that I posted the link to in my blog. Not sure if you have seen the whole documentary, but it featured the story of 4 people who battled depression in different ways. The point of the documentary was that everybody’s depression is different. Among the stories featured, one benefitted from medication, one benefitted from therapy, one got help from family, and so on. But the most important message is that they ALL ASKED FOR HELP. Clinical depression is different than simply “feeling down”. It is NOT simply a matter of “controlling your mind”, or “poitive thinking”. It is certainly NOT as simplistic as “allowing your feelings to tell me what reality is”. Everybody’s experience is different, and no one has the right to judge another person who experienced depression differently.

Joshua, I need to tell you I find your comments personally offensive because through my work with different mental health services organizations, I have met many, many people who struggle everyday with help from others to get through their lives one day at a time. Everyday is a victory, every step is a cause for celebration. All their lives they have to battle against ill-informed, judgemental attitudes such as yours that belittle their lives and what they accomplish each and every day. It is a fight that I have taken on personally to be a voice against the stigma of mental illness. I think it is important for you to recognize the damage you can potentially inflict on people with your words.

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Joshua February 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Alfred,

I regret that you are offended, however, speaking the truth is painful and necessary and I won’t take back anything I have said. Maybe I could have come down a little more compassionate with a softer approach; I think I can work on that.

I think depression is a choice, and there is a lot that one can do about it, and even prevent it.

And for the Christian, with the Holy Spirit working in each of us, there can be freedom, wholeness and healing.

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Alfred Lam February 11, 2012 at 1:43 am

Joshua, I was not expecting you to take back anything you’ve said. As I said, this is a platform for dialogue. You are certainly welcomed to your own personal opinions. I choose to engage in this dialogue not because I feel the need to convince you. I am not concerned about what you think. But I write for others who read my blog, I know some of them are my brothers and sisters who struggle with mental illnesses, I know they too have unfortunately encountered ill-informed, condemning attitudes such as yours, sometimes from Christians with good intentions. I know because i have sat in support groups and heard many of their stories. It is important for me to share with them that there are Christians who understand the complexities of mental illness, that there are those of us who understand the struggles and darkness. I want my experience to be of encouragement and hope for them. As usual, thanks for reading and commenting and giving me the opportunity to present an alternative, hopeful message.

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Bella February 24, 2012 at 12:40 am

I haven’t been on the site for a few weeks, then I read this thread. Wow. I can’t believe the comments that have been made.

If I am suffering from mental illness and depending on which side of the edge I am on, reading some of Joshua’s comments could seriously push me over. I think the “do no harm” principle is especially important here when dealing with such a sensitive subject matter. Those hurtful, no, hateful comments from people like Joshua could potentially result in tragic consequences. At best, someone who is suffering from depression would slide further, at worst, someone might not wake up to see another day to read perhaps a more hopeful message.

Words do matter. Just look at all the bullying cases where the victims wind up taking their lives. Joshua may not care, after all, “speaking the truth is painful” according to him. But I know you do care, deeply. So Alfred, I think you should seriously think of at least reserving the right to black out some of the worst comments, if not pull the whole response altogether. Like the blogs where they say “this comment has been deleted due to its offensive nature”. You can always continue the conversation “off-line” with people like Joshua, but I don’t think they deserve the “air-time”.

Encourage dialogue and different opinions, yes, as long as it is done in a respectful way for all.

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Sophia February 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Joshua :

Since I am an occupational therapist by trade working with older adults with mental illness, I would like to respond from my professional standpoint with my mind/intellect/knowledge. But also, I am a Christian, thus, I would like to add a note from the perspective of compassion and grace through my experience of interacting with individuals who have suffered from mental health illnesses.

I think your understanding of depression may be different from what is truly classified as a medically defined depressive disorder. In Alfred’s words, there is a significant difference from ‘clinical depression’ vs ‘feeling down or feeling depressed’. Diagnostic and statistical manual IV (DSM-IV) is what the medical world (in America at least) would use for diagnosis. Here is a link to it: http://allpsych.com/disorders/mood/index.html. In which you can find depression being classified as part of mood disorders, and it can comes in a few forms. I hope this reference can help you to understand a bit more about the reality of the existence and presentation of mental illnesses and not to nullify what has been discovered by the medical research world. In addition, part of your suggestion could be related an age-old question of “nature/genetic vs environment” regarding all illnesses. There is no cut and dry answer to it, but in general, most if not all researchers will not say they are mutually exclusive. Many would say mental illnesses has its genetic root (e.g family history), bodily reaction (“chemical imbalance” as the term you use), as well as environmental causes (e.g. significant stressful events such as loss and abuse). This applies to other physical illnesses too. Take cancer as an example again, there could be genetic root (that’s why they always ask if there is a family history of cancer in the diagnostic process), bodily reaction (i.e. abnormal cell growth -> tumors), and environmental causes (e.g. diet, lifestyle such as smoking, stress). I think as Alfred has lamented, there is indeed a stigma against mental illnesses varying from denial of its existence, to misunderstanding of its presentation, to treatment methods. But in fact, it is not much different from physical medical illnesses such as cancer, it truely exists even though you don’t see the tumor with our eyes, but you can rely of description of symptoms and certain medical tests to make the diagnosis. Also, it can be treated. One comment about treatments. There may be a perception that western medicine only uses drugs. But good physicians will not tell you that is the only treatment you should use regarding many illnesses. Take cancer as an example again, chemo/radiation therapy + change of lifestyle and diet is necessary. Or for example with high cholestrol, you would be told to take drug as well as change of your diet and increase your exercise for sure. Same for mental illnesses, in most cases, drugs + therapy are necessary to recover.

Having said all these technical ideas and terms, I do want to share a few thoughts from my own experience. Having worked with people struggling with mental illnesses and their families, I surely hope your words of choice were more gentle. In my experience, if my clients/patients with mental health illnesses are willing to seek help, take the drugs that the psychiatrist prescribes and follows through therapy, I have to say they are very responsible for their own life and action. Indeed with the symptoms and circumstances they are experiencing, it takes tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual courage and strength to be even open about it, or face squarely with it by seeking treatments. Even in the case when people are simply feeling down or depressed, a lot of times it takes a lot more than just ‘controlling our thoughts’ to feel better. I think it takes time, support from the loved ones, and talking about it before we can get to the stage of ‘having our thoughts under controlled’ so to speak. Lastly, my own understanding and conviction about ‘speaking the truth in love’ is that only Jesus is the truth; and in the context of this bible verse, we are instructed by apostle Paul to speak about Jesus’ story and message so that the body of Christ – the Church can mature in the knowledge and love of Christ. Other than Jesus’ story, I think we indeed know very little about a lot of things. I think this has certainly called me to be humble before God and man.

These are just my thoughts. I don’t respond nor read blog very often (as you can tell from how many days have lapsed since your first response). But working with this particular population of people with mental illnesses is part of my passion, and thus I feel compelled to type up this long reply. If you want more information about mental illnesses or talk more about it, feel free to email it, we can certainly take it offline for I am afraid to take up too much Alfred’s blog’s space.

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cellulite May 1, 2012 at 3:40 am

I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I’m quite sure I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

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Alfred May 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Thank you, “Cellulite” for reading and commenting. Please come back and visit often!!

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