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Helping a loved one cope with a mental health diagnosis

It was seven years ago when the news of a loved one’s recent mental health diagnosis hit me with the shock of an ice-cold wave in winter. I was a recent Toronto transplant just acquainted with university life when one of my favourite people in the whole world called me to tell me the beast we knew of finally had a name and to pardon the silence, as a days-long hospital stay required a communication shutdown. I listened to the details and my heart sank to the curb as I watched the walk sign on Dundas street flash red to signal stop. Years later, this is what I’ve learned about helping a loved one cope with a serious mental health diagnosis.

Bottle your emotions

This is a rarely-prescribed piece of advice, but it is absolutely essential to keep personal emotions in check in order to make space for those of a loved one. When I found out everything this person who I adore had gone through, my heart broke in a way it never had before — and never has since. A family member or friend’s mental health diagnosis, however, is about them. Don’t cry or panic. Be the crutch they need. Express emotions to a third party later if need be.

Listen without judgement

Judging a person never paved the way for open discussion. Let this person lead the conversation. Don’t flinch at their reality. Do encourage them to share whatever they need to. Don’t suggest what they should have done or ask why they didn’t do things differently. Certainly don’t ask why you didn’t know. Many need to process by vocalizing. Be a responsible listener.

Follow up

Your friend will need you the moment someone gets a diagnosis, finishes a hospital stay, a rough week or a change in medication, but don’t just be available during those periods, but during all times – without being invasive or helicoptering, of course. If there’s a relevant book or article to pass on, do so. Asking someone how they’re doing never hurts. Find out first what kind of approach works for this person and show support within that scope so as not to drop the conversation.

Ask the important questions

There’s a sweet spot between prying and playing too polite by not asking enough. Find that zone. For example, asking someone how they’re adjusting to a new medication isn’t self-serving and it brings the conversation to a space where if they want to share more, they will.

Do what the medical professionals can’t

There are things that medical professionals with even the best bedside manner cannot do. Details of a mundane day at the office, for example, could be just the thing to make an otherwise chaotic or emotional day seem normal. During a turbulent time, penning a phone call time into the schedule to chat for even five minutes could be a big deal for someone grappling with a new mental health diagnosis. While doctors did their good work, my purpose was simply to dial the number and shoot the shit for a few minutes. That’s an important job too.

Learn what the disorder isn’t

My person’s mental health condition has a name and I know both what it is and also what it is not. It is not, for example, an eating disorder like one nurse ignorantly assumed. It is not temporary. It is also not a life sentence preventing this firecracker of a human being from being anything less than that. By knowing what a disorder is not, those who provide support reduce the likelihood of uninformed remarks causing harm.

Ontario proposes a bill to have safe access zones near abortion clinics

The government of Ontario is proposing legislation that would ensure all women can make their own decision safely and freely.

The Safe Access to Abortion Services Act, 2017 was introduced on Oct.4 by Minister for the Status of Women, Indira Naidoo-Harris and the Attorney General, Yasir Naqri. If the bill is passed, women can access abortion services without fear of intimidation or harassment. ‘Safe Zones’ will be located around clinics and other abortion service centres. These zones will protect the privacy of women as well as the safety and security of proper health care services.

In safe zones, anti-abortion protests or intimidating individuals would be prohibited from lurking or giving out anti-abortion information. If the bills is passed it would also mean it would be illegal for clinic staff or other health professionals to harass women about their abortion choices.

“Our governments proposed safe access zones would protect a woman’s fundamental right to fair and equal access to safe abortion,” Harris said in a statement. “It an important step forward, and one that strengthens the rights of all women in Ontario. Women in our province should be able to access health care free form the threat or fear of violence or harassment.”

There are eight abortion clinics in Ontario and the safe access zones will extend from 50 to 150 meters around the clinic. Similar safe access zones have been functioning in other provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson warmly welcomes this move as the city has had to deal with various protestors and anti-abortion activists who harass women as they leave the Morgentaler Clinic along Bank Street in downtown Ottawa. Watson is calling on the government to consider the legislation so police can now deal with the activists.


The safety zone will also automatically apply to the homes for abortion clinic staff, hospitals and pharmacies that offer abortion services. People who violate the zones can face a fine with a range of $5000-$10,000 and from six months to a year in jail. Anti-abortion groups such as the Campaign Life Coalition think the proposed legislation is drastic and far-reaching. Jim Hughes,the president of the organization, said this form of ‘bubble zone legislation’ is not about protecting women from violence that doesn’t exist, instead he said it a form of silencing pro-life campaigns.

The safe access safety zones will also be able to increase or decrease in size based on regulation, if this bill is passed. This proposition is completely different to a bill that has been recently passed by the United States House of Representatives, legislating that all abortions after 20 weeks will be criminalized and punishable by up to five years in prison. This bill is a direct hit to women’s rights. This move has been supported by the Trump administration and is gathering a lot of criticism in the U.S. Planned Parenthood Action Fund says this move is just a way to slowly end all abortions. They say that 99 per cent of abortions take place before 20 weeks.

What are your thoughts on this proposed legislation? Comment below!