The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Man battles stigma

Here is a wonderful article from a Canadian paper The York Region that I felt belonged here.  This article tells you about having a mental illness from the perspective of the ill person.

This is also an article of hope, not despair, which is not the norm.  Peer services are wonderful for people in crisis.  We have peer services at my hospital and I know that my patients get quite a lot out of seeing someone who is mentally ill yet who can contribute in a positive way to the community.

This article may resonate with some of you.  If so, please leave me a comment below about your thoughts and feelings regarding this post.


Constantin Nastic has lived with agonizing depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder since childhood.
The 46-year-old Newmarket resident and social service peer support worker has also survived the stigma of his conditions.   Barely.   Until June, 2007, the big man with the articulate, melodic voice and expressive smile avoided hospitals.

Often, he experienced stinging humiliation from frontline practitioners who were too clinical and rigid. He thought he was being judged and felt ashamed.  The lack of sensitivity magnified my sense of ugliness,” he said. “Because of the chain of command, nurses adopted doctors’ attitudes. I never felt any compassion.”

Hypersensitive, Mr. Nastic shut down. The behaviour earned him the label of “unco-operative”, worsening an already difficult situation.   Addicted to drugs and alcohol as a means to numb the emotional pain, a tumultuous personal phase, including divorce, bankruptcy and cancer, drove him to the brink.

He was suicidal. Methodically, he collected the paraphernalia he planned to use for his hanging.
The day, June 27, and time, 2:38 p.m., are etched in his psyche. “At that moment, I heard a voice,” he said. “Go now, go now,’ it said. It was telling me to go to the hospital. If I hadn’t listened, I’d be dead now.”

In turmoil, Mr. Nastic admitted himself to Markham-Stouffville Hospital.  “I was desperate,” he said. “I checked into the psych ward. All I thought about was suicide. They had taken my shoe laces.”  Before he could orchestrate his own execution, a series of epiphanic events occurred.

A nurse saw his lonely, distraught and vacant state. She entered his room, touched his arm and kneeled to his eye level and said, “I can’t imagine what pain you’re going through, but we’re going to work together, and we’re going to find a way to help you. You’re not alone.”

He hesitates momentarily and looks skyward.   “It wasn’t the words so much as the compassion, the kindness, the fact someone took the time. The stigma was removed. It gave me validation that help and hope was there. It gave me the will and love to live.”

A trio of friends from a support group buoyed his spirits further with visits, he said. Those simple, heartfelt acts of kindness turned the key to unlocking the complexities of his emotional maladies.

Recovering, he is on a quest to share his story and shift perceptions about mental health and the barriers of stigma. His job, counselling the distressed, their families and friends and directing them to available and appropriate resources, has given him renewed purpose and passion, he said.

Speaking at schools, hospitals and Ontario Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) workshops called Mental Health and Addictions: Understanding the Impact of Stigma, is draining and gratifying.   “I tell people they have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” he said. “Without stigma, recovery is accelerated.”

Central LHIN chief executive officer Kim Baker describes him as courageous.   Created on a shoestring budget of $50,000 and intense collaboration in 2007, the Central LHIN’s anti-stigma curriculum for mental illness and addictions has been presented to 900 health care professionals in York Region.   So effective is the strategy, it has been adopted by seven health care facilities in British Columbia and a children’s hospital in Halifax.

“Stigma can be a tremendous barrier,” Ms Baker said. “The workshops focus on actions, use of words and how to be more caring and responsive. It teaches to treat the person, not just the condition and to assure the patient  they’re not alone.”  Understanding the impact of stigma is a one to two-hour workshop that uses experiential and informative education methods.

The curriculum includes an ice-breaker exercise designed to allow participants to identify their own stigmatizing attitudes, small group discussion and personal story of how stigma impacted a patient.  A significant part of the anti-stigma curriculum is reinforcing the importance of respect for the patient. By understanding and accepting mental illness is real, prejudices and perceptions and the associated behaviours, including derogatory terms and indifference, are eliminated.

Front-line health professionals are told the first casualty of mental illness is hope.   Anti-stigma courses advise on how dismissive, pre-conceived notions further the vulnerability of someone in an already fragile state. The curriculum suggests health care providers see the patient as a person with intrinsic worth and accept the fact issues, such as addiction, are not choices, but are as serious, valid and worthy of treatment as disease or injury.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has adopted the Central LHIN model through a 10-year anti-stigma program called Opening Minds.   The commission is evaluating more than 40 similar programs Canadawide, including the Central LHIN program. Each program is designed to reduce the stigma commonly experienced by many people living with a mental illness, Opening Minds director Mike Pietrus said.

The teaching protocol sensitizes health care professionals about unfair stereotyping, he said. Since mental health issues don’t present themselves like a cut or broken bone, they don’t always seem real, he said.   “The stigma of the mental illness is worse than the illness itself,” he said. “Changing attitudes and behaviour is very positive toward reducing stigma.”  Educating professionals and having recovering mental health patients share their experience is pivotal, Mr. Pietrus said.  “It works,” he said. “Constantin has lived experience. People listen. They begin to understand stigma and they take it seriously.”

Mr. Nastic agreed. He witnesses how his clients relate to his compassion and shared experience. His advice to people struggling with mental health problems is to seek help.  “Never give up hope,” he said. “Accept the illness. Know there’s help.”

To health care workers, he recommends sensitivity and sensibility.  “Don’t give up on those with mental health issues,” he said. “If you’re a triage nurse with 50 people in line, focus on the person in the chair in front of you. That type of kindness and compassion made a difference in my life.”

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August 11, 2011 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , , ,


  1. This type of observation and treatment is exactly why I have my blog, As an Activities Director in long term care my main focus was the psychiatric floor, I sought out this position, the facility was inner city, residents were mentally ill, substance abusers, frequently homeless, through my years (10) in this field I never dismissed any resident everyone has a minute, and reached out not matter how many times I was cussed out by a new admit until we obtained an amicable, positive relationship, obviously the stigma is there and when you experience it first hand as a patient it promotes behaviors, non-compliance and most of all desperation & loneliness. Sure there are those who prefer there solitude which is any human’s right but it still never stops me from a quick smile, a wave or a thumbs up….everyone needs to be noticed in a dignified equally respective manner. When you are instinctual you know when to intervene and when to stay away however knowing the difference is part of a dedication to human kind…. we must be kindred spirits!!!

    Comment by mainlyblue | August 15, 2011 | Reply

    • My thoughts seem to mirror yours on this topic. I believe every person deserves to be greeted and treated respectfully. As a psychiatric nurse, that is my goal on the job. I have met many really wonderful people who were simply in a “bad” spot or who got “lost” somewhere in their treatment and came to the hospital. I have enjoyed the company or many of the homeless that frequent our hospital. They are unique and can be challenging, but they each have a story to share. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I hope you continue to read the blog.

      Comment by Shirley | August 16, 2011 | Reply

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