Removing stigma of mental health key: Gruchy

Cory Hurley
Published on May 15, 2011
Mark Gruchy, president of the Canadian Mental Health Association-Newfoundland and Labrador, speaks in Corner Brook Friday. — Star photo by Cory Hurley

CORNER BROOK  A person suffering from a mental health illness is not broken, and is quite capable of great success in society.

The words of Mark Gruchy come from a look inside himself — the journey from a high school dropout to successful criminal defence attorney — and a hope for continued societal changes enabling many to rid themselves of the fears still associated with having a mental illness.

“They are not broken, they are people with a trait, and that trait can turn out to be a very bad thing for them in their lives and us a society or something which can actually strengthen them and lead them to great success,” Gruchy, who has bipolar disorder, said.

The key is eliminating stigmas and accepting other types of ways of being in the world are legitimate, even if there are problems associated with them at times. He also said there must be hope and help given to people who have a mental illness.

“If we as a culture, as we change, begin to do this, people are going to be more inclined not to hide it from themselves and from the world, and seek that assistance,” he said. “Then you start seeing great strengthening diversity incorporated in society in an increasingly effective way.”

Gruchy was the guest speaker at the Canadian Mental Health Association-Newfoundland and Labrador lunch and learn session Friday in Corner Brook. The lawyer, who is also president of the provincial association, said progress of society’s treatment of mental health is directly related to cultural changes in the 1960s-1980s pertaining to things like racism and sexism.

Despite the strides that have been made, Gruchy said there are great ones left to make.

Long before he found his way into an adult basic education program, focused on those who have a mental illness and were unsuccessful in the regular education system, he said he was an angry person.

The 32-year-old said his fluctuation of heightened levels of sensitivity and periods of doom were a mystery in his early years, then difficult to manage when he come to the understanding not everybody felt the way he did.

Gruchy said he was encompassed in a world of self-disruptive behaviour, challenging authority figures and falling away from society. Eventually he discovered he was not alone, and there were people outside his family who understood him, cared about him, and were willing to help. There are still many people in society living without that knowledge, still afraid of admitting — to themselves and society — they have a mental illness, he said.

 “They are our friends and our wives, husbands and children, employers, employees, politicians, lawyers, doctors, bus drivers, teachers, nurses, and corporate executives,” he said. “They are everybody.”

Gruchy said it is time to work on changing our minds about what it is to be a person, prepared to accept it is possible for people to live in the world with a very different experience from us.

“It is not necessarily something to fear,” he said.