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A rock musical on Bipolar Affective Disorder? Say what?

Good morning!

As some of you may know, I work in the mental health field. I provide workplace mental health solutions. What does that mean? I go in-house, into the depths of corporate Calgary and do full or half day workshops for senior level staff, managers, HR professionals, and front-line staff on the topic of mental health. Our workshops introduce participants to mental illness and what it means to be mentally healthy. We discuss what the signs and symptoms of mental illness may look like in the workplace, how to address the issue, and most importantly, how to resolve it effectively. Mental illness is scary to a lot of people, but it doesn’t have to be.

We participate in a number of events within the city and recently, we partnered with Theatre Calgary who has put on the rock musical, Next to Normal. I’ve seen the musical twice and have cried both times. It chronicles the life of a woman with Bipolar Affective Disorder. It depicts her going through both her manic and depressive episodes. It shows the challenges of going on and off medication, of seeking new forms of therapy, and trying to keep family together.

It’s powerful and thankfully, not sensationalized (okay, only a little). Too often, media portrays people with a mental illness as frightening, dangerous, incompetent, unclean. It’s unfair. It perpetuates the cycle of stigma.

We’ve come so far in our understanding of mental illness – the various etiologies, what medications work best for a particular mental illness, and the care has become unbelievably more humane. Yet, we’re still stuck (well, some of us) in thinking that mental illness is something to fear, to be thankful that we don’t have, to avoid discussing in the workplace, at home, or with friends, at all cost. But 1/5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. That means someone in your close circle or you will experience and / or be affected by mental illness. This means that you will have to face the issue at some point and hopefully, talk about it.

I recommend you buy tickets to the musical. No, this is not me doing a promo because my office or Theatre Calgary asked me to. It’s because I want to. I want more people to be exposed to mental illness. I want more people to start talking about it. The more you see, read, discuss, and experience, the more comfortable you will become talking about it.

Last night, I attended a networking event prior to going to the musical. At both the networking event and the musical (where I was volunteering at our organization’s booth), I had two people disclose that they were past clients of our organization, that they had been to the bottom and were now standing successfully at the top. Both women explained that they were in the process or had already started their own business. They weren’t cured, because that doesn’t exist, but they were better. They were managing their symptoms. Their disease in remission.

As soon as I tell people I work for the Canadian Mental Health Association, they start talking. They tell me about their dad, their mom, their friend’s daughter, their own lived experience. As soon as I demonstrate that I am 100% comfortable talking about mental illness, they tell me about the highs and the lows, the recovery, the successes. I sometimes even get a hug (added bonus).

If you start the conversation, people will join in. Be that change in your workplace, your home, your social circle. Take a stand for mental illness. And if you’re living in Calgary, go and see Next to Normal. Bring your partner, friend, or family member (or bring all of them).

Remember, if you start the conversation, people will join in.

M

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