Sick, not weak.
That is message that former TSN host of Off the Record Michael Landsberg has been spreading across the country in order to help reduce the stigma around mental illness.
Landsberg, who has been very open about his battle with depression and has been a spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk Day, was at the Lacombe Memorial Centre speaking at the event See Me, Not my Illness, put on by the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.
Landsberg said being able to speak at events to help reduce the stigma of mental illness has been the most important thing he has done in his live, outside of raising his two children.
“Tonight I will speak to a few hundred people and there will be somebody that hears this message that will really benefit from it — maybe there will be 50 people, maybe 100, but at least one” he said. “I do it because the stigma is still alive and well. It is still debilitating and it is still keeping people in the closet, I am hear to open the closet door.”
Speaking about mental illness with your friends, family and coworkers is one of the most important things we can do in our society to help people, according to Landsberg, and he said it is important that we do more than just pay lip service to the cause.
“When you talk about mental illness, you desensitize people. When you talk about suicide — you start to make it easier for someone to say something if they are in crisis,” he said.
Landsberg added that 4,000 people take their own lives every year in this country, with 25 people attempting suicide for every one of those that do.
“You are talking about 100,000 people and that is before you count people that think about it but don’t talk about it,” he said.
Landsberg said numbers mean we need to be speaking about this in every one of our circles.
“Tonight I will ask the question: How many of you have been touched by mental illness either personally or people you care about? Every person will put up there hand just like last week when I was in a different town. If everyone has been touched by it somehow, we should be talking about it,” he said.
Landsberg hopes that people who hear his message are able to take with them some of his confidence in order to talk about it.
“I want people to think, ‘I heard Landsberg speaking about it and he wasn’t ashamed, he wasn’t embarrassed and he sure as hell wasn’t weak — so maybe I can speak about it. That is what I want them to take away from it,” he said.
For the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, raising awareness is key for the people living with Schizophrenia in Alberta.
“Raising awareness about schizophrenia and mental illness in general is really important because 96 per cent of people say they feel discriminated against,” Rubyann Rice, executive director, said.
She added that discrimination comes from many places including the community, people’s families and their employers. To alleviate that, the Society is hoping to raise $150,000 in their province-wide campaign which goes until Dec. 31st.
“The money goes to a peer programs for people living with schizophrenia and also their families. We also employ over 200 people across the province who live with schizophrenia,” Rice said. “I hope everyone can have some compassion for those living with schizophrenia”
Landsberg added he hopes people can understand one thing.
“Sick, not weak. If you look at mental illness as a sickness and not a weakness, everything changes,” he said.