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Stigma is a Squirrel. Run at it Shouting!

 mark_headshot_colour Stigma is a Squirrel. Run at it Shouting! I’m excited to share my conversation with Mark Freeman. Mark is an author (Book: “You are Not a Rock”), mental health coach, workshop facilitator and someone that I follow closely as his frequent tweets and public commentary on mental health and wellbeing are helpful for me as I live in recovery from addiction and live with bipolar disorder.

I had a blast during this conversation, and I learned a lot.  Bea is just all around amazing and I learned a lot from my conversation with her.  She knows the history of mental health care, and the mental health tech landscape better than anyone else I’ve met lately.  This conversation was educational and informative for me.

In addition to talking about stigma, mental health care and treatment for anxiety, Mark discusses his own struggles with addiction, anxiety and OCD.  We were able to relate quite a bit about our past struggles and paths to recovery.  We also dig into how the mental health care system is designed to foster increasing stigma.  In the same way you don’t have to have a diagnosis to get a gym membership, you shouldn’t have to have a diagnosis to get help with mental health.  The solution to this broken way of thinking is an entirely new mental health care system, which we talk about in this episode.

Mark currently lives in Toronto and focuses his professional efforts on change management workshops for Fortune 50 companies, peer support for people suffering from anxiety disorders, and creating books and videos to fill the gaps in our healthcare system.

More about Mark:  Website, Book, Brain School

You can connect with Mark directly via twitter @thepathtochange

Here are some of the things we talked about:

  1. Stigma is a Squirrel.  Run at it Shouting.  Mark makes this analogy about we fear stigma, and let it prevent us from getting help and how similar that is to the squirrels in Toronto that will steal from you, but if you are aggressive toward them, then they run away.  Stigma is very similar.
  2. We talked about Mark’s personal experiences with compulsion and OCD.  He talks about how he didn’t think he was struggling with any mental health issues.  He started to feel separated from reality and would start to do things like standing in front of his stove for a long time just to make sure it was not on.  His compulsions and OCD tendencies gradually took over his life.  Although he viewed none of this behavior as strange, because he thought he had perfectly good reasons for doing it.
  3. What led you to seek help?  Depression, addiction and sexual compulsion issues led him to speak with a counselor.  He thought everything else was fine and totally healthy, and that’s when he learned that he needed to work on the compulsion and OCD.
  4. We talked about the intersection of mental illness and sex.  If you are running into any kind of mental health challenges, they are likely affecting your sex life as well.  Sex is so much about out intimacy, being ourselves, uncertainty and vulnerability.  So, if you’re struggling mentally, it’s going to be hard for you to experience intimacy and be vulnerable.
  5. Mark talks a lot about holistic mental wellness.  I asked him where people should start to get help if I haven’t gotten help before.  Do you start with cutting out social media, dealing with addiction, therapy, or church, or some other place?  Mark talks about this and gives some examples based on his experience.  He talks about how he encourages people to start learning to interact with the thing in our heads differently.  For example, resisting urges to check your phone or email.  Learning to know that you have an unread message, but not opening it and controlling that urge for some time.
  6. How do we make changes in our lives before we crash and burn from addiction or mental illness?  Will we lose our edge if we go ask for help or seek treatment?  We talk about how we can be more proactive and where to start if we have never sought help before.
  7. Often with physical health, we get proactive because we see somebody doing something we want to do.  In mental health, because people keep it quiet, we don’t see those examples as often. So, there isn’t as much of a sense that we can be doing something to improve.   We are still in the early stages of people talking about mental health, even though, we have had brains for a very long time.
  8. A lot of the things we call mental illness could maybe have been considered great survival tools back in the caveman days, but in today’s world, it’s hard to fit in when you demonstrate those traits.
  9. Swimming is not about “avoiding drowning” it’s about “learning to swim.” We don’t label ourselves as having a drowning disorder because we want to learn to swim.  It’s about the thing we want to learn and build.  We need to approach mental health this way.  IF you think of anxiety as a lake, you don’t have to “fix the anxiety lake,” rather you want to figure out how to swim across it instead of stopping and seeing it as a barrier.  We need to learn how to go where we want to go.
  10. Where do I start if I want to deal with my anxiety?  Start with smaller uncertainties.  Things like not checking your phone. You notice a simple uncertainty, and you don’t react to it.  Then you can progressively level up from there.
  11. How do we learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings?  Just like exercising the first time.  If you went to the gym and tried to lift a weight, and failed, you wouldn’t just never go back to the gym.  If you go to therapy and have a painful experience you must keep going back.  You must push yourself just like you would physically.
  12. We talk about where stigma comes from and how we can address it.  The mental health care system was designed around stigma.  Nobody would exercise if you could only get a gym membership by admitting an illness or have a diagnosis.  The mental health system works this way where we have to admit we are ill or be diagnosed before we get help.  We must change how the system functions. We should view getting help for mental health the same way we do a gym membership.  We should view it as doing something good for ourselves.  It’s going to take consumer led services led by people who are living in recovery to fill the gaps.  It will take a new system all together.  Then we can hope to see stigma reduced.

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