Mental Health Awareness: Calling Out the Crap

I normally enjoy listening to CBC Radio’s “The Current,” a typically intelligent and informative current affairs show broadcast weekday mornings. But this week, they did a story that seriously ticked me off, and really disappointed me. It was presented as a story about PTSD, except it wasn’t a story about PTSD at all. And in doing so, “The Current” and the CBC just furthered the same kind of misinformation about mental illness that we already hear way too much of.

By the time I finished listening to the story, I was starting to imagine a rant in my head that I wanted to be able to say to the producers of “The Current.” When it gets to the point that I’m starting to compose whole speeches in my head, I usually take that as a sign that I should write something down, if only to organize my thoughts and calm myself. As I started writing down some ideas, I felt moved to express those thoughts in some sort of meaningful way. I find myself increasingly drawn to the cause of public awareness about mental health issues, and this felt like an opportunity to try to combat some of the inaccurate messages out there about mental illnesses. 

So I sent an email of complaint to “The Current.” Here’s the email I sent – it should help explain my objections to the story…

I just finished listening to your April 3rd story entitled “PTSD victims of violent crime find positive self-growth facing trauma: study.” I came away very annoyed by how you handled the story.

The piece begins with some powerful words from Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire regarding his experience with PTSD. The story that followed turned out to be about research at Algonquin College into some of the positive outcomes for people who had survived violent trauma. The trouble is, this research had absolutely nothing to do with PTSD, and implying that it did was a complete mischaracterization of the actual story being told, and of PTSD.

Your guests made it clear that their study was simply about the after-effects of violent trauma, their subjects were not specifically suffering from PTSD. In fact your first guest, Jennifer Barkley, had to correct host Anna Maria Tremonti to say that no, she hadn’t been diagnosed with PTSD.

As you ought to know, PTSD is a very specific, serious illness that affects some survivors of trauma. Conflating all post-trauma effects with PTSD is completely inaccurate, and implying that this research applies just as much to people with PTSD as to other people who have experienced trauma is also inaccurate. People with PTSD have their own unique set of symptoms, treatment, and challenges. I fear the takeaway many will have after listening to this story is, “PTSD doesn’t sound so bad, after all, you can achieve positive growth by having it – people with PTSD just need to look on the bright side of their problems.” Nothing could be further from the truth for those who deal with the often-devastating effects of PTSD, and I am deeply disappointed that the CBC would participate in the propagation of damaging misinformation about a mental illness.

I have no idea if my email will have any impact whatsoever, but I definitely felt better after sending it! Sometimes it feels like everywhere we look, there’s another example of a stigmatizing fallacy about mental illness, whether on the news, on a TV show, in our school or workplace, or in a conversation with a friend or relative. It’s tempting just to let these offences pass, and sometimes that’s the best choice to make in that moment. But I’ve become increasingly aware that careless portrayals of mental illness have serious real-life consequences for those of us who have a mental disorder. Consequences like the lack of understanding we might get when we reveal our condition to our friends or family. Or the sense of stigma that might prevent us from getting help. Or the stigma-induced shame that we sometimes feel about ourselves even after we start our treatment, impeding our recovery and sometimes causing a dangerous worsening of our symptoms.

So I guess I’m trying to do my small part when I can to fight the battle of mental health awareness, whether it’s about my own condition of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or about another mental illness. And the more that others join in on the fight (both those with a mental illness and those who are their allies), the bigger impact we’ll all have on pushing this world of ours in the right direction.

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