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Mental Stigma - A manual for everyone

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, November 11, 2012

Families, friends and people who live with mentally challenged people now have a formal handbook which can allow them to lead better lives with their loved ones who are mentally ill.

This is now possible with the release of a handbook by the Family Support Network in Mental Health in Fiji which will allow members of the community get to know how to handle people living with mental illness.

The handbook which is called the Carer's Hope for Recovery Manual also has a DVD attached to it where medical workers and other carers of mental health patients share their experiences and ways in which to handle people living with mental illnesses in various situations.

DVD developer Rachel Strapps says the handbook is definitely a useful resource that anyone, including family members, friends and society at large, to use whenever or wherever they come into contact with people living with mental illness.

"It gives a deeper understanding what mental health is, what services is available a step by step of guide that can help us, It's a very good resource and it's not just for carers it's for everyone but from a carers perspective," Strapps says.

She adds that this can be useful, especially in the effort to eradicate the stigma usually associated with mental illness in Fiji.

"Because I think there's obviously still a need for information about mental illness and people can use this manual to better understand what the illness is all about."

Strapps noted that the family is one institution that can help in this campaign to help people understand mental illness and eradicate the stigma in Fiji.

"Because the family is the massive support group for someone who is dealing with mental illness and also with the stigma associated with mental illness here in Fiji, family can break this. They will have more information and know how to help their loved one.

"Family is important in Fiji because everyone I have met in Fiji, family is like everything and I do hope this can be used to better understand about mental illness and also to break the stigma here in Fiji," Strapps says.

The medical and experienced mental illness workers who wrote the handbook did so through their experience and a series of workshops that started two years ago.

This group of mental illness carers have formed a support group aimed at improving the public's understanding about mental illness and also to help the patients and those who suffer from it through a support network.

Expert answers from


Lately I haven't felt anything but anger and frustration from being in school, dealing with all the bullies at school and abusive teachers, then coming home and having to deal with my parents because of all the trouble the teachers put me through ... any advice? - FB*"

It sounds like you're in a situation where the pressure feels like it's coming from all sides. Having to deal with bullies at school can make it hard to focus on schoolwork - then parents and teachers might pressure you for not doing, or acting, your best. Maybe no one really gets what you're going through. But letting anger and frustration build can affect your mood and happiness. And that's not fair to you.

Your challenge is to deal with bullies and meet expectations at school and home - all without losing your cool. That's hard to do alone!

Start by letting someone who really gets you know what you're up against. Find someone who is on your side. It might be a friend, a teacher, a coach, or an advisor. Ask this person to just hear you out for a few minutes. Explain the stress you're facing. (Make sure a teacher, coach, counselor, or someone else at school knows about the bullies and how they affect you.) Talking things through calmly also can help you vent the frustration and anger.

When someone knows what you're going through, you can think of ways to deal with the situation together. Plan how you'll react to bullies and ways to steer clear of them.

Keep anger under control with physical activity. When you're feeling angry or frustrated, channel it by going for a run, working out in the gym, or shooting hoops on the basketball court.

Find a little time to relax and chill. No matter what kind of day you've had, make time to relax and laugh. Find a friend or two to hang out with - even if it's just for a few minutes after school.

Taking these steps can help you override stress before it gets to be too much. The idea is to deal with the situation so stress doesn't pile up and affect your mood and happiness. Keep your cool, do your best, reach out to positive people - and don't let bullies ruin your day.


I think I might be depressed. I'm having a hard time paying attention in class. I just feel sad for no reason, like I can't cope. I told my parents, and they took me to a doctor because I was also having headaches and stress. My checkup was normal. My mom listens and tries to help me feel better. My dad says I'm just not trying hard enough at school. Maybe he's right. What should I do? - Evan*"

Sometimes, friends or family members recognize that someone is depressed. They may respond with love, kindness, or support, hoping that the sadness will soon pass. They may offer to listen if the person wants to talk. If the depressed feeling doesn't pass with a little time, friends or loved ones may encourage the person to get help from a doctor, therapist, or counselor.

But not everyone recognizes depression when it happens to someone they know or love.

Some people don't really understand about depression. For example, they may react to a depressed person's low energy with criticism, saying the person is acting lazy or not trying. Some mistakenly believe that depression is just an attitude or a mood that someone can shake off. They don't realize it's not that easy.

Sometimes, even people who are depressed don't take their condition seriously enough. Some feel that they are weak in some way, or disappointing others because they are depressed. This isn't right - and it can even be harmful if it causes people to hide their depression and avoid getting help.

Occasionally, when depression causes physical symptoms (things like headaches or other stress-related problems), a person may see a doctor. Once in a while, even a well-meaning doctor may not realize somebody is depressed. He or she may just pay attention to the physical symptoms.

Talk to your parents again. Tell them how you feel. Since your mom seems willing to listen, you might want to start by talking to her. You might mention that you've been reading up on depression and, based on the symptoms you are having, you think that might be what's going on with you. If it's easier, show your parents one of our articles on depression.

Ask your parents to arrange for you to meet with a counselor or therapist to find out how you can feel better.

If you feel like you're not getting anywhere with your parents, talk to your school counselor. This is just the type of thing counselors are there to help solve - especially when it is affecting your schoolwork. Your counselor also may be able to help you when it comes to talking to your parents.

Warning Signs of Suicide

Everyone feels sad, depressed, or angry sometimes - especially when dealing with the pressures of school, friends, and family. But some people may feel sadness or hopelessness that just won't go away, and even small problems may seem like too much to handle.

Depression can affect many areas of a person's life and outlook. Someone who has very intense feelings of depression, emotional pain, or irritability may begin to think about suicide.

You may have heard that people who talk about suicide won't actually go through with it. That's not true. People who talk about suicide may be likely to try it.

Other warning signs that someone may be thinking of suicide include:

talking about suicide or death in general

talking about "going away"

talking about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty

pulling away from friends or family and losing the desire to go out

having no desire to take part in favorite activities

having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly

experiencing changes in eating or sleeping habits

engaging in self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or driving too fast, for example)

As a friend, you may also know if the person is going through some tough times. Sometimes, a specific event, stress, or crisis - like a relationship breaking up or a death in the family - can trigger suicidal behavior in someone who is already feeling depressed and showing the warning signs listed above.

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