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Challenging Our Stereotypes


Written by:  Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc,   Author of Diversity and Inclusion on a Budget

 

In our early childhood education, we are taught to classify, sort and separate.  We categorize by shape, colour, texture, and by things that we like and do not like.  This early training helps us to sort out large chunks of material into smaller pieces which are more easily understood.  While this system may work with objects, it can be problematic when it comes to trying to categorize people and placing them into labels or stereotypes. Each day we engage in this labelling process whether consciously or unconsciously.

 

 

 I was on the bus one morning travelling through some of the less than desirable parts of town.  A man in his mid-thirties got on the bus with what looked to be his 5 year old daughter.  He seemed a bit rough around the edges, heavily tattooed and on the messy side.  This tough man held a little pink brush in his right hand.  He sat his daughter on his lap and proceeded to brush her hair and make the neatest pig tails.  All the while she was smiling and kissing her father’s hand as he admiringly transformed his little daughter’s tangled hair into a tamed coiffure.

 

While I sat and admired the interaction in front of me, behind me were a couple who regularly attend a methadone clinic in the downtown core.   On the surface they would appear kind of scary.  Dishevelled appearance and missing teeth – people you might want to avoid. However, over the years I have seen this couple who live in government housing show generousity to others on the bus.  Lending others an ear, offering their poverty-stricken neighbours some of their own food.  That day they were engaged in a deep conversation about the upcoming election, and judging by their vocabulary they would have appeared to be well educated.

 

I get to the conference that I was supposed to attend and visit my associate.  After the conference she told me that a woman who was wearing a burka had approached her before her talk to tell her that a man at the conference has stolen the books that she had on display.  My friend who was about to start her talk did not have the time to do anything about it.  As it turns out the woman in the burka chased the man outside the school and demanded that he hand over what he had stolen.  At the end of the conference the woman in the burka handed over the text book to my friend.  

 

I was pleasantly surprised by each of these incidents that I witnessed in one day.  They were a gift to me.  I was challenged by common stereotypes that not only I have but that society has in general.  It is hard for us to imagine a tough looking guy feeling comfortable fixing his daughter’s hair in public.  We don’t expect people who have a problem with addictions and are poor may have a strong depth of political analysis.  And surely, with all of the images of passive women in burkas in the media we would not expect one to stand up to a man and demand stolen merchandise be returned.

 

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Mental Illness: Reaching Out Can Make a Difference


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Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity At Work in London Inc, Author of Diversity and Inclusion:  On A Budget

Growing up with a parent who suffered from a severe mental illness wasn’t easy.  My mother wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her fifties.  Sadly, the best parts of her life were lost to an illness that robbed her of what could have been her most joyous moments like the birth of her children and grandchildren.  Despite her daily battles with depression, anxiety, hallucinations, language barriers and poverty — somehow we all survived.  Recognizing that she could no longer work with groups of people, my mother built a small solo cleaning business where she could carve out a meager income to support her family.  Who would ever think that with so much going against her that she could maintained a business?  But proudly, I can attest that she did!

 Our national awareness campaign about mental illness reminds us that we can make a difference in someone’s mental health and I agree.  Along the way, there could have been many opportunities for people to have reached out to someone like my mom who was alone and struggling with two children – but they did not. Maybe they didn’t want to pry or perhaps they were scared.  Or worse yet, “too busy” to care.

 Each day there are people around us who suffer silently or openly.  Some have paid professionals helping them out and others have no one.  There will be those whose only interventions come from a professional, never hearing the kind gentle words of a friend, family member or even a stranger.

Have you ever been through a rough emotional time when the support of friends or family really made a difference in how you came through?  Sometimes people don’t get better because they have no one that shows them that they care.

 Helping people who are mentally ill is not just the responsibility of professionals but communities and individuals as well.  Mental illness is all around us, but sometimes we want to turn a blind eye.  It can look like:

  •  The woman who started drinking after her husband left her.
  •  The student who is getting panic attacks before his exams.
  •  The new mom who can’t stop crying and doesn’t know why.
  •  The dad who lost his job and can’t get out of bed because he feels so devastated.

 It is also:

  •  The veteran who has the pent-up anger from the battleground.
  • The child who slashes himself to release the pain.
  • The teacher who hears voices telling her that she is an evil person.

 If you know someone who is in these circumstances and you haven’t reached out, now may be the time to do so.  We cannot leave everything to professionals, but individuals living in caring communities can make a difference in someone’s recovery.

 Don’t you think so?

 Let’s start the conversation.

 I would like to hear your comments.

 If you have a mental illness and are reading this blog, what suggestions would you have for others to reach out to you?  Please leave your comments.

 If you reached out to someone today, who is affected by mental illness. Tell us about it and how you felt.

 

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