Broadcaster, Daughter Fight to End Stigma of Mental Illness

By Dave Battagello, The Windsor Star May 8, 2010   

Broadcaster Valerie Pringle says it was not until her daughter was in her early 20s and she found her on the floor crying uncontrollably, that she fully
grasped the severity of her child’s mental illness.

“As a parent, you look back and say ‘what could I have done different,'” said Pringle. “It did take her to be rigid on the floor and sobbing for me to realize
she is sick and needs help. We needed to do something about it.”

Pringle and her daughter Catherine — now 29 and largely recovered from panic and anxiety disorders — were in Windsor Friday as guest speakers in front
of 300 local educators and youth support workers at the We R Kids Mental Health Conference.

The event provided teachers, school officials and others working with kids the latest background on how to recognize warning signs of mental health issues and ways to intervene. A main highlight was the unveiling of a new local information website — www.werkidsmentalhealth.com.

Up to 20 per cent of Ontario youth are at risk of suffering a mental health problem, according to provincial statistics. Of that group, only one in five
is getting the mental health care they need.

The last direction Pringle imagined for her life was to become a spokeswoman for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

But she said she took a lead role following her daughter’s illness and watching others such as former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. Michael Wilson, who had a child suffering from mental illness bring attention to the cause, she said.

“Now I can’t think of a better way to spend my time,” she said. “There is a desperate hunger for this. Catherine and I decided we got to join in and help.
People tell us they want to hear this.”

Catherine traces her illness to early childhood, with frequent worries and sleepless nights “about things that other kids didn’t seem to think about.” She
recalled often sobbing on nights before school tests.

“People kept telling me it was just nerves,” she said.

It was not until she started her first job in her 20s that the illness took a firm grip and left her unable to function.

“I found myself crying more and more,” Catherine said.

She recalled one day sobbing on the floor. “Mom just looked at me and said ‘this is not normal and maybe we should get help for this.”

The Pringles’ fight is to see the stigma around mental illness end.

“You feel so alone and crazy,” said Catherine, cured through antidepressants and cognitive therapy. “Once you get help, just to know there are others experiencing the same thing makes such an enormous difference.”

Added her mom: “People are less likely to ask for help or get support from family because they feel ashamed — or at work because you fear getting fired.
Once we get people open and honest about it, hopefully there will be a snowball effect because this affects everyone.”

Depression is costing the economy billions — and carries potentially fatal consequences through suicide, Valerie said. Mental illness makes up about 40
per cent of disability claims, she said.

“We can’t afford not to face up to it. It’s time to get everybody in the country dealing with this to face up and march in the street so people can see
it is all of us,” she said.

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