Still here: combatting the stigma of suicide | Valéry Brosseau | TEDxMcGill


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In her talk, Valéry Brosseau aims to encourage and inspire people to push the envelope in terms of social boundaries, in terms of compassion and empathy, to help change the paradigm of social conversation surrounding mental illness Valéry Brosseau has been volunteering and working in the field of mental health for over seven years. This experience, combined with her lived experience with mental illness, has made her a strong mental health advocate. She will be discussing how pushing the envelope of what is socially acceptable can allow us to effect important changes in mental health awareness. Changing our conversational standards can teach us all how to start combating stigma in our circles. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

so for about eight years I’ve been
training in a sport called Brazilian
jiu-jitsu and for those of you that
don’t know we do this sport in a kimono
like uniform called AG II and the G is
crucial because it allows us to grab
grips out of the fabric to achieve and
maintain positions now about a year ago
I was training at my home gym
I knew my partner I felt fairly
comfortable and we began a round of
sparring and he grabbed a sleeve grip
and that caused my sleeve to ride up my
arm it exposed lengthwise scars that run
up and down my wrist and he looked down
at them and without seeming to think
about it he said what did you try to
kill yourself or something I looked at
him calmly and I said yes I could see
the shock on his face I could see the
gears turning as he realized how gauche
his question was and I could see his
surprised at getting an honest answer
that’s because we don’t talk about
suicide we don’t talk about mental
illness I’ve often had people stare at
my scars they most often don’t ask
questions but they’re pretty fascinated
they kind of don’t want to know they
kind of do want to know sometimes
they’ll give me a knowing look or Pat me
lightly on the shoulder but mostly they
don’t ask questions I once wrote in a
poem I wear my insides carved into my
outsides the ugliest parts of me are on
display and people well they stare this
man stared because my scars are unusual
he stared because he couldn’t understand
them he couldn’t fathom how somebody
would do that to themselves because we
can’t see mental illness we refused to
acknowledge it when confronted with it
were awkward we shy away we lack
compassion someone’s brain chemistry
doesn’t show up on their skin or in
their breathing or as a broken bone and
if we can’t see it then it mustn’t exist
this is stigma
stigma silences us its stunts discussion
and it stops us from speaking up and the
thing with stigma is that it’s insidious
it creeps in slowly as we form more and
more opinions and misconceptions and it
quickly becomes something much more
dangerous stigma comes from two things
it comes from shame and it comes from
guilt and shame comes from the judgment
placed on us by others while guilt
builds internally as we judge ourselves
for what we perceive as shortcomings but
let’s back up for a second let me ask
you a simple question how are you think
about that for a moment how many times a
day are you asked this question
questions are how we request information
from the world in social contexts
they’re how we request information from
each other so think about that again how
are you how many times in your daily
routine are you confronted with this
question and how do you answer each time
we’re constantly giving automatic
perfunctory replies assuring people that
were fine and good but what are we
accomplishing with this is there a true
exchange of meaningful information there
we’re essentially lying to each other
we’re failing to share the full truth of
what we’re experiencing and we’re
failing to share the full truth of what
we’re feeling because we’ve developed
these social standards and boundaries
around what’s acceptable what makes us
overbearing or rude or awkward and when
it comes to mental health awareness
these social boundaries and standards
are obstacles to overcome research has
shown that talking about suicide openly
candidly and out loud greatly reduces
the chances of somebody with suicidal
thoughts going through with an attempt
so what can we do how do we change the
norm how do we address the stigma
pushing the envelope means pushing
limits it means embracing radically
different experiences that shift
paradigms and help us learn and grow it
means changing for the better and
a deeper understanding to be able to
better serve the society that we live in
and the shift that I’m proposing it
starts with you and me
it starts with everybody in this room
each person in this room choosing to
push the envelope of those social
boundaries and of what’s acceptable and
that’s really the most powerful way to
make headway when it comes to combating
stigma and when it comes to mental
health awareness the last time that I
tried to kill myself I needed 14
stitches the time before that I was in a
coma for days I tell people that I
didn’t attend graduate school after my
BA because I was sick I tell them that I
didn’t start my career until my 30s
because of medical issues and while this
is true omitting the fact that these
concerns were psychiatric avoids
judgment I once worked with a woman who
said of her ex-husband he spent two
weeks in the psych ward he’s a total
now spending two weeks in the critical
care unit for traumatic brain injury
would never qualify you as such that’s
because we don’t give mental health
patients the benefit of the doubt or the
same respect if I told someone that I
didn’t attend grad school because of a
traumatic injury that required rehab
they would feel for me they would ask
how it happened asked about my recovery
imagine the pain the discouragement all
of the effort that went into that if I
told somebody I didn’t attend grad
school because of suicidal thoughts that
led to a serious attempt they would
probably be taken a little aback they
wouldn’t know what to say there would be
shock there might be judgment they would
be making it fit within their paradigm
of what is a medical illness and what
warrants compassion and so in many
contacts I avoid conversations about
that part of my life I know that a
nondescript physical health issue is
likely to bring sympathy and a modicum
of understanding while a mental health
concern would be much harder to
understand this is one place where I
need to continue to step up and face my
fear of stigma and make strides towards
mental health awareness
that is the paradigm to shift we need to
make suicide and mental illness
appropriate topics of conversation to
broach in standard conversation there
may be a caveat to this there can be
nuances to one it is effective to share
these things but what I’m aiming to
change is that idea of appropriate
versus inappropriate honesty candidness
and true human emotion are always
appropriate if someone asks you how you
are and you respond that you’re dealing
with severe anxiety
perhaps that can’t be addressed in a
three-floor elevator ride but it’s still
not inappropriate to give that honest
answer what needs to change is the
reaction to it if you answer that you
were dealing with anxiety the person
might be taken aback a bit they might
think you’re over sharing or being
awkward and that’s because of one simple
fact mental health and physical health
are treated very differently think about
it if you were asked the same question
and you answered you had a bit of a cold
that would be a perfect perfectly
commonplace answer so let’s try
something else how was your summer oh
well I broke my arm
this answer wouldn’t be off-putting
again the person would check in with
your recovery ask you how it happened
sign your cast maybe how was your summer
well I had an episode of psychosis it
was really difficult most people
wouldn’t know how to respond to that
most people wouldn’t have the language
or develop the tools to be able to talk
around mental illness in a way that’s
helpful and compassionate many people
might be more worried about their own
discomfort with the topic rather than
the opportunity to empathize with
someone and that’s what it comes down to
we need to train ourselves in empathy
and empathy absolutely can be learned
humans feel feelings it’s that simple
and we have an incredible propensity for
feeling and connecting to what other
people are feeling
we just sometimes need a little bit of
guidance we need to be comfortable with
openness we need to be comfortable with
sharing and receiving both what we
experience and what others experience we
need to become a safe space to be
compassionate and empathetic and allow
people to open up which in turn gives
them permission to seek support and that
reminds them that they’re valuable that
they’re worthy that they deserve that
I am diagnosed with borderline
personality disorder and bipolar
disorder before being diagnosed I knew
very little about either of these
illnesses in fact I’d never even heard
of BPD before I just knew that I was in
pain but I was different I didn’t really
know how or why which made it all the
more overwhelming and scary I’ve dealt
with chronic suicidal thoughts which I
still struggle with and these stem from
intense psychological pain that I often
feel I’m not strong enough to live
through I live in a world of highs and
lows that can be very disruptive to my
life and my feelings are magnified and
the cooling down period after each of
them is longer than that of a healthy
brain I lived like this for years
unaware that there was a reason for it I
saw most people around me living their
life without crumbling at every onset of
emotion and I decided that I must be
doing something wrong I decided that if
I tried harder I could be better I could
be different I could be normal I lacked
the education in the knowledge on mental
health and mental illness to know that
there was a name for what I was
experiencing and more importantly that
there was treatment and that I deserved
it this is the challenge pushing the
boundaries of what’s acceptable and
what’s appropriate of what makes us
socially adept mental health should be
as ubiquitous and how we take care of
ourselves and talk about ourselves as
physical health we need to talk about it
educate ourselves the empathetic
compassionate safe spaces for honesty
both from ourselves and others through
my recovery I’ve become more comfortable
with sharing my story because I hope
that it will help someone it will help
somebody feel less
it might give a more human and real side
of mental illness that’ll help somebody
understand better combating that stigma
requires that open and honest
conversation we need to make mental
illness an appropriate topic something
to check in about something to learn
about if I can leave you with anything I
would encourage you to be open and brave
open and receiving other people’s
struggles other people’s pain other
people’s experiences and brave and
sharing your own mental health is health
talk about it you could easily save a
life thank you

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