Overcoming Harsh and Hateful Comments. Mental Illness 101

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Mental Illness 101: Overcoming Harsh and Hateful Comments (Sometimes Our Own Families Just Don’t Understand)

About a year ago, as we were in the throes of begging a Dallas Psychiatric Hospital to treat our fifteen-year-old son, a family member made some interesting comments.  In a conversation that took place on Facebook, I was accused of spoiling my child, not parenting properly, and, in my attempt to obtain treatment, I was accused of relying on the government to take care of a responsibility that is ultimately my own.  The words were harsh, judgmental, and they stung.  My feelings were deeply hurt.

I engaged in the conversation to defend myself and to help my family member understand the entire situation. Unfortunately, I was met with more judgment and even greater hostility.  In an attempt to salvage our now, deeply fractured, relationship, I left the conversation.

A year has passed since that hurtful conversation took place and I have sincerely tried to move forward in a spirit of love and grace.  I believe that my family member simply does not understand.

But, yesterday morning, a whole year later, I woke up to another upsetting comment from my relative. Although, this time the words were not targeted directly at me, the words were just as harsh and judgmental as they were before. The hostile nature of the post and the similarities to last year’s dialogue stirred some deep emotions within me.

I am not sharing this to retaliate against my relative or to hurt him in any way.  My relative is a good person with a good family and solid morals and values.  I respect my relative and I do not want to be a source of anymore pain.

However, as I have been licking my wounds and processing the situation, a revelation came to me.  My relative’s lack of understanding, lack of empathy, lack of compassion, and false perception of my family’s situation represents the way most of our nation views mental illness.

I am blessed to be surrounded by a community of people who are supportive, empathetic, and who have stepped up and stepped in to walk this horrific journey with my family.  As a result, I live in a bubble.  I am protected and therefore I am sheltered from the harsh critics in our society.

But here’s the thing:  The harsh critics exist.  And often they exist in our very own families.

Through my tears and in my attempt to understand my relative’s point of view, I found myself filled with a greater desire to bring awareness, provide more education, and move our society forward with greater momentum. I am actually thankful my family member attacked.  His words stoked my fire.  They were a call to greater action!

His words served as a great reminder:  People DO NOT understand.

And how can they?

For all of history, society has done everything in its power to sweep the issue of mental illness under the rug.  No one wants to be associated with mental illness.  No one wants to admit that mental illness exists.  Certainly no one wants to have a mental illness in their family; and what could be worse than being the one who  actually has a diagnosis?  No one wants to be mentally ill. Nobody wants to be “crazy”.

For centuries we have hidden those who suffer away.  We have shunned them, banned them from society, hidden the illness in our homes, and prayed that no one would discover our “dirty little secrets”.

Families continue to hide in guilt and shame. And why wouldn’t we?  For a family with mental illness, the world is a cruel place.  Parents are accused of poor parenting from school teachers and administrators and we are even criticized by our own families and friends.  I remember when our son, Cody, was younger I isolated myself in the house because I could not bear the stares and judgments.  In the past year, as the illness has tightened its grip on Cody’s mind, I have seen him deteriorate and suffer from low self worth.  No one wants to be “that person” and no one wants to be “that family”

But you know what?  My family is “That Family”.

And you know what else?  I refuse to walk in shame.

Last year, in an attempt to educate people about mental illness, I wrote a blog and created a daily post on social media called, “Mental Illness 101”.  I have not revisited that information in quite a while but perhaps it’s time for a refresher.  The facts I will post here are slightly more personal.

  • My son has a physical illness that affects his brain.  His illness is as real as another person’s heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.  His illness is not a result of bad parenting, too many video games, being spoiled, or lack of faith.  His illness is biological. It requires medication and intensive treatment.  If the illness goes untreated Cody will get sicker, likely end up in jail or on the street, and his life expectancy could decrease by at least 25 years.
  • My family is not alone.  One in four Americans (approximately 60 million) suffer from some form of mental illness.  5% of those suffer from severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, severe bi-polar disorder, or severe depression.
  • My son suffers from severe bi-polar disorder, one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat.
  • Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and the third leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 years.  More than 90% of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness.
  •  24% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners suffer from mental illness.  70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have a diagnosable mental illness.
  • Fewer than one third of adults and one half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services.
  • Approximately 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and 46% have severe mental illness.
  • Treatment for mental illness is nearly impossible to obtain.  Unlike going to the hospital for any other physical illness,  to be admitted, a patient with a brain disorder must meet the criteria of being a “danger to self or others”.  By the time the individual is that sick, it is often too late.  No other illness is treated this way.
  • Our nation currently has a shortage of nearly 100,000 psychiatric hospital beds.  This shortage has resulted in increased homelessness, increased incarcerations, and emergency room overflow.
  • Why does the government need to step in?  Because our current mental health care laws actually prohibit individuals and family members from receiving care.
  • Are families looking for a government handout?  No.  Insurance companies do not cover mental health the same way they cover medical health, (although the two should be integrated into one treatment plan, but that is a topic for another day).  Typically insurance companies are only willing to cover up to 30 days of inpatient treatment.  For a person with a severe and persistent mental illness, like my son’s, 30 days is the equivalent of putting a band aid on stage IV cancer.
  • We are receiving treatment through our school district.  Yes, the school district.  Not insurance and not any other medical coverage.  This is the way our current system is set up.  It is the only means to receive care.  We have fought for this treatment. The cost for the intensive residential treatment that our son’s illness requires is in excess of $8,000 per month.  That does not include medications.  I don’t know of any family who can afford these kinds of medical expenses out of pocket.   It is not our desire to receive financial assistance, but under our current system of care, we are left with no other options.  We are thankful to be receiving help.  There are many families who are not so fortunate.

This is a broad overview of our failed mental health care system and just a few basic facts about mental illness.

Our lack of compassion and treatment for the mentally ill is one of the greatest injustices of this generation.

It is my deepest desire to bring mental illness out of the darkness and into the light.  We have got to change the way our society views mental illness and we have got to change the way we treat those who suffer.  We must eliminate the myths and focus on the facts.

As I continue to speak out on behalf of my son, our family, and the millions of others who are suffering in silence, I pray that we will reach a place where we can all move forward in a spirit of love and grace.  I long for the day when people who suffer from mental illness will be added to church prayer lists instead of being criticized and condemned.  I long for the day when social media will be filled with stories of healing and hope instead of another mass shooting.  I long for the day when we will be less critical of one another and more understanding, empathetic, and compassionate. All I can think is that Jesus would want us to love one another, not tear each other apart.

Wouldn’t we be better off to try on the other person’s shoes before we offer judgment?  Wouldn’t we be smarter to learn the facts before we offer criticism?

As I wrap this up, I pray that you will not post anything harsh or unkind about my relative.  I did not write this to invite any more hostility.  Instead, I invite you to share anything new that you have learned from this information. (negative and unkind comments will be deleted.)

How has this helped you be more empathetic and more understanding of mental illness?

How can you make a difference to a family who is suffering?

What can you do to bring change?

If you are a family who is suffering, how can this help you educate others?  Can you find the courage to share your story?

Taken from: http://www.leislstoufer.com/

In Honor of Some Special Ladies

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Today I want to tell you about Melinda. An amazing lady who has faced a tremendously challenging year with grace and a positive attitude! It started with her husband Lee, who returned from a business trip last summer and was out catching up on mowing his lawn when he began to feel extremely ill. Ill enough that he went to the hospital near Florenceville where he lived. Lee was rushed to the hospital in Fredericton and was diagnosed with a flesh eating bacterial disease. He became increasingly sick very quickly. Melinda was in Sackville visiting her mother at the time. She had her cousin drive her to Fredericton. Things were deteriorating and Melinda had to face many decisions about her Lee’s options.   She was strong and made the brave choices she felt were the right thing. Always steadfast in her thoughts that Lee was going to get better. Her phone calls and texts all positive!!   Then we got the call, Lee had been in an induced comma for a while due to all the treatments of removing the bacterial infected flesh from his arm, and now he had been put on life support and the extended family was told to come.   Melinda, as any wife in her position, was scared but continuously hopeful.

A couple of days later, a miracle, Lee is has come out of the comma and is off the ventilator and is being prepped for skin graphs. Wow!!! It had been weeks of turmoil and now Melinda could exhale.   Lee was in the hospital for several weeks after the surgery and while he was recovering, Melinda had undergone some tests and was diagnosed with cancer. Lee, was finally released from the hospital in Fredericton and they returned to their home in Florenceville where for the next few months Lee would continue with his recovery, several hospital visits while having to keep his arm dressed, clean and required help with every day life. Melinda did whatever it took to make sure he was comfortable while she fought her battle with cancer.   She posted about her treatments in a very positive way. Always looking on the bright side of how she was feeling before with anxiety and after from exhaustion. Then about a month ago she was not reacting well to the treatments and started to become weaker and was admitted in to the hospital. Last Friday morning Lee texted: Just thought that I should give you an update on Mel. When the night nurse left she indicated that there is nothing left to do but make Mel as comfortable as possible and that time is short. Not sure exactly what that means but the feeling I got was to expect days not weeks. However in the same breath she indicated that there is no way to know for sure. Mel had stopped eating and drinks very little. She is mostly unresponsive when asked questions but does look to have her hand held and seems to know when people are talking to her.

Early that evening Melinda passed away. When I went to he funeral home I had this overwhelming realization of how precious life is. I know it sounds like a cliché but I can’t explain the emotions that passed through me while I stood there and looked at Melinda in her coffin. Sadness and anger that her beautiful spirit was taken from this earth, happiness to have had known her, gratefulness for the love of family that filled the room, my family.  Melinda was always kind and positive and happy to see you. She was a loving wife and mother and has left behind a void in many lives and I wanted to tell you her story because her passing affected me.

As a matter of fact along with Melinda, this past year has taken a few incredible ladies who have made a significant difference in their communities and in the lives of others. As I reflect on these ladies I have to say that I truly feel that life is precious and limited. We say things like, it was too soon or too early. The fact is that too soon or too early is not our call.   All we have control of is how we spend the gift of time we have on this earth. These following ladies

Susan Killen: A gentle spirit who was passionate in her teachings

Margaret Begner: A trail-blazer!! Margaret had no fear of taking the path less traveled because she knew that great things awaited her as she beat down those paths.

Elsie McGraw: A force to be reckoned with. Elsie never backed down from her beliefs and would stand up in a room of 10 or a gathering of 100 to speak her mind and get her message heard. She was brave!

Terry Munn: A beautiful little lady with a mighty personality!!! Terry was consistent in her welcoming and open arms disposition. Always willing to share for the better of the whole.

And Melinda Blakney: Strength, courage and hope!

These are ladies who were my colleagues and friends have made it abundantly clear to me through losing them all this past year, to follow my heart and do what is truly important to me. Not to let the nay sayers stop me from having the courage and the strength to trail blaze through what may seem impossible only to find out that we only have a limited time to make that difference. So don’t waste time procrastinating on whether or not you will be accepted in what you are doing but go ahead and do what you believe is the right thing and acceptance will follow. Make the difference you want to see.

I leave you with this “Yennahism”….Hold the hand of the one you love, hold them close and make sure you feel the feeling of their hand in yours and the their arms around you.   I mean truly FEEL it, remember how it feels to be in that very safe place and remind him or her to feel it too. Then tell them that you want them never to forget that feeling no matter how far away from each other you are. Even death can’t take that feeling, your feeling away from either of you.

Live your best life everyday!



My dominant Addictions!

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Hi, My name is Yennah Hurley and I am an alcoholic!!

Since I posted my first post last week, people who have known me for years emailed, text-messaged, Facebook-messaged and called me with concern being unaware of my “addiction” so I thought it was important that I clarify that my addictive personality has allowed me to substitute one addiction for another since I was 11.

I have two dominant addictions that I have struggled with as an adult. One being alcohol and the other is food. I became more aware that I was no longer a “functioning alcoholic” but that alcohol was actually impeding my success as a human being in my early 20’s. I had a successful business and I owned my own house in Toronto but I was partying every night. My addictive personality gave me the drive to have my own business during the day and work two other jobs at night and weekends at bars. And gosh darn it if I was going to work so hard, I was going to fit playing as hard in some how. That means I was drinking excessively at bars till 1 or 2 in the morning and then would drive myself home on the 401, 4 lane highway.

One night in September 1991, I drove to my mother’s house from a bar totally smashed. I thought I was at my own house, had no idea how I got there, got out of the car and proceeded to throw up all over the driveway and then staggered in to my mother’s house and passed out on the couch. I was woken the next morning to these words from my mother “You are just like your father.” I won’t get in to the details of my father today but will tell you that he died when I was 11 years old and the 11 years that we co-existed on this planet were horrible for me as a child. He was a mean and senseless alcoholic and no one I would ever aspire to be like.

That was the day I made a very conscious decision that alcohol would not be a part of my life as being equated to my father was not an option, not to mention that I could have killed myself and someone else by being completely irresponsible on the road. Because of my very strong personality, I was actually able to stop cold turkey. I did not go to a program or therapy and instead substituted the alcohol with other things and people that filled up my life. I would learn later on in my life that although giving up alcohol was the best move I have ever made, I was not in full control and would require professional help for the deep-rooted issues eventually.

It was not easy as I had to give up my jobs at the bars and stay away from the party scene and even lied for years to people, telling them that I had a bad kidney and that is why I did not drink anymore so I would not have to admit I was an alcoholic. I am now stronger and realize the importance of admitting I have a drinking problem as the first step to my continuous recovery.

I would like to end today’s post with letting you know that in July of 1991, I met an incredible man named Rob. He was an important part of the decision as he was kind and loving and generous and made me want to be a better person. I wanted this relationship more than I wanted alcohol.   So all that to say that the man I wanted to be least like and the man I wanted most in my life were both a huge part of me getting clean and staying clean of alcohol for the past 23 years of my life. I would go on to marry Rob and continue to have a blissful marriage for 20 years and counting J. I will tell you more about him in future posts. I will also go in to further details of my food addiction, which I struggle with still today, in my future posts.

I was at the “A Day in Her Shoes” event last night and here is my biggest take away from the wonderful guest speaker – Helen MacDonnell…..Love large and hug often. I love that!!!!

Have a great week everyone!!

Just the Facts : Mental Illness in Canada

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Just the facts: Mental illness in Canada


Facts from Canada

Chances of having a mental illness in your lifetime in Canada: One in five

At any given time, percentage of Canadians who have a mental illness: 10.4%

Percentage of adolescents (aged 15 – 24) who report a mental illness or substance abuse problem: 18%

Percentage of people who commit suicide who have a diagnosable mental illness: 90%

Source: Kirby, M. & Keon, W. (2004). Report 1, Mental health, mental illness and addiction: Overview of policies and programs in Canada (Chapter 5). Interim report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

Percentage of Canadians who will experience a major depression in their lifetime: 8%

Percentage of Canadians who will experience bipolar disorder in their lifetime: 1%

Percentage of Canadians who will experience schizophrenia in their lifetime: 1%

Percentage of Canadians who will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime: 12%

Group with the highest rate of hospitalization for anxiety disorders: People 65 and over

Percentage of Canadians affected by eating disorders in their lifetime: 3% of women and 0.3% of men

Number of suicides in Canada every year: Approximately 4000

Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among Canadians aged 15 – 24 and 16% of all deaths for the age group 25 – 44.

Source: Report on mental illness in Canada (2002). Available at: http://www.phac- aspc.gc.ca/publicat/miic-mmac/index.html

Age with the highest rate of depression symptoms: Under 20 years of age Age with the highest rate of anxiety symptoms: 20 – 29 years of age

Copyright Mood Disorders Society of Canada


The First of Many on My New Journey….

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Happy Thursday everyone!!! Today is a new day for me and the first of many challenging but exciting days ahead as I immerse myself in what I feel is a very important subject……..Addictions and Mental Health for Adolescents in the Saint John area, New Brunswick, the Maritimes, Atlantic Canada, Nationally and Internationally. But today, on the first day of Mental Health Awareness Month, I felt was the perfect day to post this message!! Addictions and Mental Health due to childhood trauma has been a personal journey all my life. Having the opportunity to work with MindCare New Brunswick at the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation over the past year was truly an amazing asset and has led me to realize that many of my life experiences are an opportunity for me to pay it forward, For the incredible people who have stood by me and carried me along the way when times were challenging.

My first request from you is – if you have an adolescent who is experiencing an addiction and/or mental illness please private message me as I am in the process of doing a survey which will help determine what gaps you are experiencing with the systems already in place so we can work on measures to improve them. The only way to do this is to get the real information from your real experiences so we can make real changes.

Please pass this message on to anyone who you think may like to share his or her experiences with me. All information will remain completely confidential and the results used will be anonymous.

I will continue to post what I know is happening in the Addictions and Mental Health space in our community and around New Brunswick and will soon have a blog letting you know how I am getting involved in my community and who I’m volunteering with and let you know how you can too! I will let you know about some astonishing people and organizations who are already making great strides with advocacy and awareness for Mental Health and Addictions and report on steps being made for more available resources to get help.

I look forward to sharing this next journey of my life with you!!