Mental Health and Substance Use

Today after reading an article titled University Faces Mental Health Crisis.

I was more inclined to write this article especially after having met with an out-patient psychiatric nurse this week. I saw her because of a referral I received…last year (summer 2011). I completely forgot about the referral, and besides, by the time I went to see her, I believe that I didn’t need to see a psychiatrist.

I had developed some coping skills, and new techniques to help me with my anxiety or stress. I can give thanks for the student development services (specifically, to a counselor who finished her placement with me and the new one I am now seeing). I also had to give myself some credit because this year was the year that I finally decided,

I have to be honest with myself and with who ever I decided to receive help from because if I wasn’t honest…I wouldn’t get the help I actually needed

I was honest, and I also decided that I would cut back on drinking and stop doing drugs. I started noticing a pattern–less drinking and no drugs meant less anxiety attacks, less nightmares, less depression-bouts, less interrupted sleeps. It’s not that everything all of a suddenly magically stopped all together, but I noticed I was significantly feeling better. I didn’t and sometimes don’t still feel perfect. I still have my insecurities. I still have my fears. I have my flashbacks…still. I still look over my shoulder when I am walking alone. Double check, if not triple check that my door is double locked before bed. Sure, some people may call me paranoid, but I know that’s my coping method. Albeit, not a good one, but it works.

I think that is the most frustrating part about trying to get care for mental health: everything looks okay by the time the referral comes, but really…the person may have just developed new coping methods.

My new coping methods aren’t the best but they certainly are better than doing drugs and drinking every day. Even when I tried to get help when I was still using, mental health care professionals would say to me “Why not try to quit drinking and quit doing drugs and then we can make an appointment, okay?” I just want to yell out, “Can’t you see, I am doing drugs and drinking because of these mental health problems!”

I was using, and it was my coping method.

The thing with this article that I read today was that it focused on lack of resources to meet the high demand for students at the University. The article mentioned in only one instance “substance abuse.” Even the words together don’t sound nice.

You don’t have to be abusing substances in order for them to be affecting your mental health. In fact, you don’t even have to be a repeated user in order for substances to affect your mental health. In fact, you can even die on the first time you use substances. (Yes alcohol is a substance, and yes you can die from drinking too much in one sitting and not just over time)

I think the issue with University culture and mental health issues is that the two fail to acknowledge that substance use or substance abuse or substance experimentation may either further aggravate mental health issues, create new mental health issues, allow old mental health issues to resurface and even hide mental health issues–in my case, it did all that. But if I were to be honest with you, I did use a lot and I used every day. I wasn’t in school then though. I don’t think anyone who did what I used to do could ever complete first year or any year of university, and if they are… well I guess that is their coping method.

Individuals go away to school, and sometimes they are trying certain aspects of life for the first time. Everything from living on their own for the first time, having sex for the first time, being single for the first time, maybe even being drunk or high for the first time. When it comes to university, there are three aspects to it:

  1. academics
  2. social
  3. personal

Academics deals with marks and going to class and even passing or failing. Social deals with the partying, relationships (friendship or more), etc. Personal deals with finding yourself or well, losing yourself (freshman 15 anyone?).

In the article above, it states that there needs to be more resources. Yes, I completely agree. But what also needs to be is more awareness and education, not just on mental health but perhaps things that might hid, might exacerbate, or might even create mental health issues. Yes, I am kind of biased when it comes to speaking about mental health and substance use/abuse, but I’ve been there. Nobody ever told me, drinking might be the cause or doing drugs might be making it worse, because drinking and doing drugs was my coping method.

I’d like to make a further point or connection. Earlier today, an LFpress article was posted titled Growing number of schoolgirls using painkillers.

The interesting thing about this article is highlighted a statement by an officer, and the officer statement reads:

“The schools aren’t doing enough to educate parents on the subject…Their kids are taking the pills right out of their medicine cabinets, out of their purses. They’re either using them, selling them, or in many cases both.”

And here is another article that highlights the issue of young people finding drugs in their parents’ drug cabinets. Dated 2007: Student use of painkillers on the rise.

How many years later and kids getting drugs out of their parents drug cabinets is still a problem? That’s four years.

In four years, I moved to London, earned a college degree, and was accepted into a university and even completed first year university.

I am not blaming parents for substance abuse or substance use problems, or for their own child’s mental health issues, what I am making more apparent is the fact that sometimes in the University culture and the University experience is that some young people may want to experiment with substance use (and like I said earlier, it doesn’t have to be substance abuse; it can be even first time use) which can sometimes create, hide, or exacerbate mental health issues. Yes, as noted earlier, alcohol is considered a substance. Yes, under aged drinking happens on campus. And not that I have witnessed, but I smelt it, drug use happens also.

Parents should also be made aware or educated on how substance use can affect mental health issues. I know that universities give tours during summer months to groups of parents and their child(ren). I believe universities should also give a quick workshop on substance use and mental health issues, and how sometimes the two go together, and tell the parents straight up,

Just because you think your child is an angel and you believe that they won’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t mean that they won’t. So here is some information to make you as a parent more aware and more able to help your child cope.

And yes parents, your child isn’t perfect and just because he/she says he/she is, doesn’t mean they won’t put themselves in situations where substance use occurs and he/she just wants to try it for the “first” and “only” time.

Now, I am not even going to say that one should stay away from substances completely, but what I am saying and what I do believe that more awareness needs to brought out to Universities about the issues with partying and drinking and how it can affect your mental health, and not just your physical health.

Ever hear that one saying, “These are for the nights I can’t remember with the people I won’t forget.” (Or however that over used quote goes…).

Yes parents and universities, it is referring to black out drunk. But I don’t think its cute or funny to use that quote with pictures of an individual holding a 26er of vodka. University experiences should be made to be memorable, and not just by pictures or recall through friends telling you stories the day after. Not. Cute. But that’s just my opinion.

Just because I am First Nations…

I am writing this post because of a few things I have experienced in my life… mainly to do with school and work.

I have had my fair share of interviews, since having my first job when I was 15 years old. Some of the jobs I didn’t even have to have an interview. Some of them, I just had to introduce myself, answer a few questions and then I was hired. If I can remember one interview, I wasn’t asked any particular question about my background or my ethnic origins. However on my first day of employment, I was called into the boss’s office and told to sit down. My heart was beating. I had no idea what I did. My boss proceeded to tell me how lucky she was to have me…I remember her specifically saying:

We are so lucky to have you on our team. As soon as we found out you were Aboriginal, we just had to hire you

Being the shy, quiet girl I used to be, I didn’t really say anything except giggle a little and say thanks. I wish I knew better. I should have spoken up. This was a government job and someone was saying that they hired me because I was Aboriginal (is how I took it after wards and how I still interpret it) is just…wrong. Some people say, that I should be happy and should just let it slide. Honestly, who says that in any type of professional position? That is all I want answered.

That was when I was 17 years old.

Today, I am attending The University of Western Ontario. A big university. A diverse university. I am constantly reminded that other people look at me as a “First Nations student” whenever they ask me what I am studying, and before I can even answer they butt in…

Are you studying First Nations?

Ummm no, and just because I am First Nations does not mean I am studying First Nations [in fact, I don’t think I should have to study First Nations in order to get a minor in it on my degree–I think growing up on a First Nation, up north, just outside a predominantly white small-sized city is good enough to know what the issues First Nations people face… Okay maybe that last statement is a bit ignorant..the issues that First Nations people face are complex and vary across the board–I think a First Nations introduction course should be required to attend this university and I only say this because we are surrounded by three First Nations that I know of… and with many more close by (give or take a few hours).] In fact that should be required for any university or college in Canada.

Another experience here on campus, I just recently had an interview for a position. I didn’t get the position (and I am not upset…I am most certain they have picked the most appropriate person for the position). However, yet again, I felt like as if here I was again in another sticky situation where someone suggested something to me… This person suggested that I apply for the First Nations position because they said:

I know you are very passionate in this area and I think it would be a great fit for you

After reading that, yes I was upset, and I am sure this person meant no harm in suggesting it (and perhaps maybe I might apply for this position.. maybe I might not.) However, I wanted to send an email back, but I didn’t as I knew what I wanted to say wouldn’t come out right. I took a few deep breathes. Closed the email and didn’t return to it until later (**Ahem** Later would be today).

I know someone might think that I am being a little to overly sensitive with these experiences but really, I feel like as if I was generalized, and that by through each of these experiences I feel like that there is this “Invisible glass ceiling” that I must break through if I want to get anywhere that goes beyond people looking at me as the “First Nation” employee or “First Nation” student.

I am proud of who I am and I know why those positions or opportunities are created (Classic case of Corporate Social Responsibility or giving proper representation to a certain marginalized group) But what if a First Nation’s person, whether employee or student, wants to go for something that is beyond the “First Nations” position or “First Nations” area of study or “First Nations” label… will that “Invisible Glass Ceiling” always exist?

Just because I am First Nations does not mean I want your First Nations position.

Residential School Children

This past weekend I was able to attend my university’s First Nations Student Association’s powwow. This powwow had a great turn out and I was very impressed. I was also able to meet a few people that I am interested in working with or at least volunteering with. At the powwow, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had a booth set up and I was able to meet the person who works with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. I was very interested in talking with this individual because I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Shingwauk Residential School Reunion. When I volunteered at this event, I had some amazing conversations with Residential school survivors and I also learned a few things from this group of people.

The one thing I learned was this: Keep smiling! When I remember this experience, and even though this group of people were brought together under not-so-great circumstances, they still smiled. I remember seeing them sitting together, eating together, laughing together, and most important still smiling together.

Another thing I learned about this experience is that many of the children who did attend the school and who did die at the school, never received proper burial. This kind of made me upset. As a volunteer, I had a tour of the old residential school which is now a university, Algoma University College. On this tour, we were brought to a secluded area behind the university. There was a trail that led up to this area and specifically into the area which we were going to. We were going to the graves of the priests and nuns. In other words, the graves that did not include the children who died at the school. These graves had big tombstones, fencing around the grave site… clear markers that graves existed there. We were told that many of the children who died at the school either died in the river trying to escape the school or died and were only buried in the front of the school. The front of the school was just a big green yard, with obviously no grave markings.

I talk about this experience because when I visited the Truth and Reconciliation Commission website, I saw an article that spoke about an Aboriginal youth, whose name is Charlie Hunter, that died while at a different residential school and his parents were not notified of their child’s burial. Additionally, Charlie’s burial happened outside Charlie’s home community–his parents could not give a proper burial and could not visit his burial site. As the article says,

For years, their family has unsuccessfully pressed the federal government to have Charlie’s body brought home so that they can visit his grave and talk with his spirit.

The burial of a body is a very sacred ceremony for Aboriginal people and it can be agreed upon for any group of people that funerals help with the grieving process. This process is an important part of healing for anyone, whether Aboriginal or not. If you would like to read the entire Toronto Star article, you can read the complete article HERE.

When reading this article, it made me upset with how the Indian Affairs Minister responded to this situation. Mr. John Duncan simply said in a letter,

He feels badly for them but cannot help…

Fortunately, another part of this story is that there is another couple, the Wilsons, amongst others. The Wilsons helped out Charlie’s parents by donating $5,000 to help bring Charlie Hunter home. A trust fund was also set up. The estimated cost to bring Charlie home is estimated to be at $21,500. Throughout the story, there are individuals who are touched by this story and who are willing to help bring Charlie home. This literally brought tears to my eyes. I thought, if only we could bring all children home to their parents.

My experiences at The University of Western Ontario

Note: Please keep in mind the nature of this blog…Experiences of an Aboriginal Female in Canadian Society. I write from my point of view, and I still realize that there are other groups that still face troubles. I do not make an effort to say that I have it worse off or that I deserve better treatment. I just write about my experiences.

First, my experiences at The University of Western Ontario have been great. I have been involved and wanting to be even more involved. I have met great people, both Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal. I have met some great people who are/were on Social Science Students Council. I met some great friends in class. I also met some great people through volunteering at various events and with various committees around the school. These experiences and these people, along with the understanding and supportive professors, are what make my UWO experience enjoyable.

Second, below is an article that was sent to me by another student at UWO. This article made me sick to my stomach. This article reminded me of this one incident class. In this incident in class, we were talking about Human Rights and if we should be concerned about Human Rights or lack thereof in other countries, those outside of North America. This made my stomach turn because of what some of my peers were saying. I then raised my hand and I asked the class:

Why do we care about Human Rights issues/violations in other countries when we have Human Rights violations here in Canada? Like that of lack of clean water, or education not available to everyone.

I paid special attention to make sure this discussion in class did not go into the direction I was afraid it might go into: First Nations issues. I made sure that I never mentioned First Nations, Aboriginal, or Indians or any reference to this group. I did this because the issues that surround First Nations are complex. Nevertheless, the discussion went from Human Rights in Canada, to clean water, to First Nations. Someone responded to my question or concern with this statement:

….We should not be giving the Chiefs hand outs….

My stomach literally turned over in class. I wanted to respond but I knew if I were to respond, the “right” thing would not come out. I didn’t respond to that comment. What I did I wish I had said was this: That Chiefs of each First Nation don’t get the “money” directly. The money actually goes through layers of organizations before it ever reaches the citizens of Canada that actually need it: the members of First Nations (excluding Chief and councils).

I did not say that. I wish I did. Rather, I just say there in my seat, quiet, anxious, wanting to bolt. After class was let out, I cried. I didn’t know how to handle this. I was angry. If it weren’t for Indigenous Services and the people there that day, I don’t know what would have happened? A panic attack? I don’t know I can’t predict what would have or could have happened and I don’t think I want to now.

When I read this article that was forwarded to me, the same feelings went through me. These feelings existed because literally the same thing was being read, when it was said in class, but this was written AND published in the school newspaper. Here is the article:

UWO Gazette Article Dated November 2005UWO article. To see the direct link to this article click Here.

I know everyone has a right to their own opinion. I do not deny anyone’s opinion in any situation. However, it amazes me that some people who attend such a well-known university, can actually be thought of as “higher learners” when things like this are said. I know these statements are filled with ignorance, in other words lack of education. So what is the solution? I am not sure. I do know that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests putting the REAL Canadian history in school curriculums.

I emphasize this: Not all Aboriginals choose to live and stay on reserve–if they do want to leave some of them don’t even have the resources to leave. Like I said before, the issues that surround First Nations people, are very complex.

But to read this article dated 2005, and to be in class in 2011, there seems to be no change in thought from two very different students. The only thing that alarms me is that, one opinion was actually published! That is what concerns me most.

It makes you wonder why and where people get the idea that Aboriginals get everything for free or that we have it better off, or that we can just get up and leave our reserves (reserves that were created in an effort to “get rid of the Native problem”).

Finally, here are some present statistics about the current state of Aboriginals in Canada:

  • 2010: Infant mortality rate amongst Canadians 5.3 live births per 1000 versus 19 live births per 1000 amongst Aboriginals
  • Number 1 cause of death of Aboriginals between ages 1 and 44: Suicide
  • Suicide rate amongst Aboriginal youth is 5 to 6 times higher
  • 98% of residential school survivors have a mental illness
  • Rates of suicide in Aboriginal communities where no protective factors (Control over land/Band controlled schools/Cultural facilities/Control over health care, fire, police) are present: 137.5 per 100,000 (where the national average is 14 per 100,000)

These statistics are not from the 1960s or the 1970s. These numbers are from 2009 onwards.

It makes you wonder why this group experiences these situations at a much higher rate when compared to the rest of a country, a country that is supposed to be credited with its level of equality, human rights, justice…. Well, it may not make you wonder but it makes me wonder. To read a different viewpoint on this issue of Aboriginals, check out my post titled, It’s Not All About You.

In the end, I hope that one day people can stop making ignorant statements against Aboriginals, and other marginalized groups as well. I plan to work towards this equality and educating non-Aboriginals about situations that Aboriginals still face today in present-day Canada.

One day.

You can read other posts I have written about Aboriginal youth, Suicide amongst Aboriginals, and another post concerning The Gazette by clicking on the tags below.

Mental Health: Message from Andrew Forgione

Message from Andrew Forgione, new USC Prez at UWO!

Mental health is just as important as physical health!

Mental Health Awareness week is going to be on at UWO March 21-24/2011 in the UCC! Same time as the Income Tax Clinic…Can’t forget about your taxes!

Check it out the youtube channel Mental Health UWO.

Check out this cool site as well called Mind your mind!

Here is also the website for London Distress Center!

Don’t forget you are never alone (no matter how much you feel that way)! The help is there…Read my post on reaching out for help titled Not your fault!

I believe….

Today, I am sitting at my present school, University of Western Ontario. I wish I could be attending TEDxUWO right now, but must complete this essay instead. I normally have my essays finished well in advance but decided to change my topic last minute (may be a good idea or a bad idea).

Taken from the TEDxUWO website, this is what it is all about:

TEDxUWO is an innovative organization that brings the best and brightest innovators in the country to Western for a once in a lifetime opportunity for you on Saturday, March 12, at the Grand Theatre in downtown London.

This is an opportunity to learn from the best. If you’re a student who aspires to take on a larger role in the private or public sector, a young scientist who seeks to leave a mark in research, or an entrepreneur who is just starting out — you will have a chance to gain from leaders who have built successful and enduring careers, including some of our very own alumni.

‎​We embarked on a journey to bring TEDx to campus because we knew it would be an opportunity of a lifetime for Western students. We’re hoping that people will continue to take an interest, and we’re confident you’ll like what you see

I wish I could have gone. I noticed that one of the speakers was UWO’s Own Mr. Adrian Owen. I remembered reading about when UWO’s first media release announcing Owen’s arrival and thinking about his work. His work, according to TEDxUWO, is on:

Residual brain function in patients who are non-responsive after suffering a severe brain injury.

Mr. Owen’s work caught my attention because I am a brain injury survivor. Although, I did acquire a “severe” brain injury… I am still a brain injury survivor. I was in the hospital for a month. I don’t remember much of my hospital stay. When I was released, I was considered still “comatose.” I had double vision for 6 months, had headaches everyday, constantly tired, constant ringing in my ears, mood swings… I wrote a post titled Acquired Brain Injury. The post kind of describes my experiences living with an ABI.

Now how does this relate to Mr. Owen’s work? When I was in a coma, I remember, strangely, the things people were saying around me. I don’t know why I remember these things or why I cant even remember a few days before the accident. I remember people talking around me in the coma. It was a strange experience. I believe that Mr. Owen’s work is applying science to beliefs…

I can’t describe what my family went through when I was in a coma. But what I do know is that I had to get worse in order to be transferred to a different hospital. At the new hospital, I wasn’t just left there. I remember people talking around me, talking to me, holding my hand. I could feel them.

If there is one thing that I can take from this experience to tell other people who are or may be going through the same thing that my family went through:

If you have a family member or a friend who is in a coma, whether they are unresponsive or not, talk to them, touch them, just be there with them.

Imagine being in a hospital bed, with nobody there. Even if you could talk and open your eyes. Being alone in the hospital sucks. Now imagine being there, alone and unable to talk, unable to open your eyes, unable to speak… That would suck even more. It makes me angry when I hear doctors tell other patient’s families: “They probably won’t hear you, but you can try to talk to them.” JUST BELIEVE!

The work of Adrian Owen is applying science to belief. His work is saying, “You know what: people who are unresponsive may still have some responsiveness.” I agree with him because in my coma despite me not being able to remember accident, for some strange reason, I remember people around me, talking to me, touching me…

This is my story. I believe in Mr. Owen’s work. I may not have been one to be in a “vegetative” state but I believe that his work puts meaning to my words when I say that I remember hearing people around me, feeling them.

Even though some reasons may be harder to take than others, I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Past versus Present

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meet and greet with Phil Fontaine here at my university. Unfortunately, I walked in only half way. I regret missing the beginning of his talk.

I did walk in on something interest. He stated just minutes after I walked in relating to Canadian Aboriginal people’s past saying that we need to fill in the “missing chapters.” In question and answer period with the students, questions were asked. I asked a question relating to one of my essays I am working on pertaining to education and Aboriginal children. My essay’s hypothesis is: Aboriginal students’ confidence levels may increase if Aboriginal history and culture is taught. What I mean by Aboriginal history, is not just the horrible things that happened in the past but also the positive history stories.

Recently, I came up with the idea to put to use my talent of writing and drawing. I love to write and draw, and it’s always been a dream of mine to write a book–whether black and white print or a child’s book. I would really like to write a child’s book, and illustrate it as well. That would be my ultimate dream.

I presented to Phil Fontaine my idea and how I would like to write about the good things that Aboriginal people have done. After saying all this, I kind of felt frustrated because 1) I could not get my actual point across because of my emotions 2) He grew up in a different era than I. I know, not his fault.

I could not get my point across that yes. I acknowledge the past and I would like to write about the past, but what also needs to happen is the positive stories. Growing up, I had my family as my positive support and motivation. I was fortunate growing up because not all Aboriginal youth have this basic structure in their life: family. I looked up to my sisters, my mom and my dad. I remember watching my dad doing his essays for his university degree. I remember watching my mom as well. When I needed help with my school papers, my mom would always say, “Get your dad to edit your papers, he was really good at that.” I remember thinking that I wanted to be just like my dad and be good at writing. I wanted to be like my mom, in all her hard work she done as a student, a mother, a wife, and a community member. My mom and dad were great motivation because they gave us the freedom to pursue what we wanted, and together my parents, would provide the guidance and care as needed. My sisters were motivators because well, they were my first best friends and will always be my best friends.

However, I felt that I was most frustrated in that I could not say that when I was growing up and going to school, there was no motivation outside of school. I am thankful for my family for all the motivation they did provide, because where would I be without them? Phil Fontaine made a point that we need to acknowledge our history, and I acknowledge and appreciate where he is coming from as he is a residential school survivor. However, I wanted to make a point that we need to start young, and motivate young Aboriginal people to stay in school. I believe in my point, just as much as I appreciate his point and background. I believe in my point because if young Aboriginal people do not have the motivation or confidence to stay in school, where will the future of Aboriginal people’s be heading to (I say this as a frustrated young person: History doesn’t matter if you have no future).

The issue with Aboriginal young people is drugs, alcohol, suicide, gangs, violence, criminal activity, as Phil Fontaine presented. The bigger issue is not having the motivation or confidence to avoid those experiences. The issue is not being able to have outside motivators other than one’s own family. This is an issue because sometimes their family is not even a “family.”

If the education of Aboriginal history, both positive and negative experiences, begins at a younger age to both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, it will bring about a greater awareness to the situation of Aboriginals in Canada. That is my idea, a concern for the future. As these young people grow older, they will be more aware of what happened, and what is happening today (and maybe what the causes are of the present situation of Aboriginals). They will be better able to apply their knowledge to help provide for or at least attempt to provide for solutions to the Aboriginal people’s problems. They may know why there is a lot of substance abuse, and gangs, and violence, and why Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison system. They may know what causes these multigenerational problems, like those of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse, and why these problems still persist today.

After hearing his response to my question and my idea, I felt that there is still the issue of young versus old, past versus present. We need to bring those two together to realize that one without the other cannot exist: Aboriginal people need their history as much as they need their young, and their young need to know their history to help them realize that the issues in their hometown or community are not their fault–that is the issue today. Most importantly, the rest of Canada needs to know this history in order to help their young, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to grow and understand each other. That is the solution, in my opinion. Getting rid of the “versus.”

Phil Fontaine @ UWO

I am soooooooo excited about this event! The only thing I am not so excited about is that it is also on the same night as a different event 😦

Here are the details for the event…

Who: Phil Fontaine
Where: UWO Faculty of Law, Room 38
When: March 3, 2011 @ 7:30pm
Why you should go: It’s Human Rights! Everyone should be concerned about Human Rights! Plus it’s free…but that shouldn’t be your only reason to go 😉