Sharing the Strength: An important perspective on mental health and addictions

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By Kelly Laycock

Excerpt from Ronni A. Nordal’s article, “Let It Begin With Me”

“In any given year, one in five people in Canada experiences a mental illness or substance abuse problem. In Saskatchewan, this means that approximately 220,000 individuals are struggling to some degree. Over the course of a lifetime, 43% of people in Canada experience a mental health problem or illness. If the impact on families and caregivers is included, almost everyone is impacted.”[1]

While the editorial team for the Benchers’ Digest was wrangling ideas for our Summer issue, we were thrilled to receive an unsolicited article from one of our Benchers. But it wasn’t just any article about the usual legal issues that our members deal with every day, things that fall under criminal practice, family law or wills and estates. No, this was a special article because it deals with something much more personal, and something much less talked about.

Ronnie A. Nordal took it upon herself to write a very candid account of her experience with mental health and addictions issues, and she has chosen to share it with us, the legal community. That is significant for a number of reasons. Her choice to share this story, entitled “Let It Begin With Me”, points a spotlight on the legal community and reveals an undercurrent of negative perception toward the issue. Many still see mental health and addiction problems not as an illness, like any other physical malady, but as a personal weakness. Ronnie’s article speaks to the fact that it takes strength to overcome these struggles, and she points out the fallacy of keeping your experiences bottled up.

However, her choice also reveals the trust she has in this community, a belief that sharing a personal account will bring awareness to an issue that is seldom discussed and that it will find an audience ready to react in a positive, accepting and proactive manner.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is an excerpt from Ronnie’s article:

There is an Al-Anon declaration that starts with: “When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help – let the hand of Al-Anon and Alateen always be there, and – Let It Begin With Me.

I think the concept of “Let It Begin With Me” applies to much more than addictions, and I would like to think that when someone reaches out for help for any reason, but especially in relation to mental health and addictions, we, as a society, are there for them.

While we like to think of ourselves as belonging to an evolved and accepting profession, lawyers are not immune from preconceived notions and from the influence of societal stigma toward mental health and addictions. We are, however, in a unique position to play an active role in removing stigma and in helping individuals who may not be able to help themselves, at least not at this moment, or may simply need a helping hand or a supportive ear….

To read the full article, see page 20 of the Summer 2016 issue of the Benchers’ Digest.

 

[1] Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Calgary, AB. Quoted in Dr. Fern Stockdale Winder, Commissioner, Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan. (2014). Working Together for Change A 10 Year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan for Saskatchewan.

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