Can We Talk Stigma? Article Share From “The Fix”

What can be worse than addiction with undiagnosed mental health challenges?




Stigma can be a beast. It has put fear in many addicts who want to reach out for help from addiction but are afraid. It has stopped many suffering from mental health issues but afraid to seek help because they don’t want to be labeled. 

“I know that I felt this way before I reached out for help as I am “Dual Diagnosed.”

I have lived with stigma from own side of the family. People seem to be afraid of what they don’t understand. So let’s education the public and help those who want help know there is nothing wrong with asking for help without being labeled or endure STIGMA  ….

“People, Stop Shaming, Labeling, and Making Us Feel Ashamed. No More Shaming Others!”      *Catherine Lyon*

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Better Off Alive—Is the Stigma More Dangerous Than the Condition?

By Regina Walker 05/26/16


“MANY still perceive someone with mental illness as evil, dangerous, and in some cases, better off dead.”



Over the past decade, the rate of suicides in the U.S. has increased to 12.1 per 100,000 people. Every day, approximately 105 Americans die by suicide. Many studies believe that number is higher. There is one death by suicide in the U.S. every 12.3 minutes.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA.
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year, and a large number of people are debilitated by their psychiatric illness and symptoms.

So those are some basic facts. And they are startling and concerning. We have what many may consider a mental health crisis in the U.S. And, we are doing very little about it.


Another, more insidious, crisis proliferates around this one: the stigma associated with mental illness. Those living with a mental illness must fear how they will be perceived by a society that offers little, if any, empathy.

“I have worked in the mental health and addiction fields for many years, but this topic is far beyond professional for me. In fact, my career choice was probably formed when I was 16 years old and my 19-year-old sister committed suicide.”



Recently, a popular website published an alarming essay by a blogger who determined that her once upon a time friend was better off dead (the friend had recently died by what could have been suicide) because she suffered from a mental illness (schizoaffective disorder).

The writer went on to say her friend (who was in her early 20s at the time of her death) had “nothing to live for” and had appeared to have been taken over by a “demon.” The piece went on to describe her former friend as “hopeless” and the writer expressed her relief at hearing of the death of this woman (though they had not been in actual touch in quite some time).

I am not writing this to bash that author (many have and will continue to). In some ways, she has inadvertently heightened awareness around the subject of mental illness and how we perceive it as a society. My greatest concern (and belief) is that the thoughts she verbalized in her article are shared by many—possibly most. The stigma associated with mental illness and those who suffer from it is deep, dangerous, and contributes to the pain of those who experience it. It also inhibits the possibility for healing.

Chicago-based actor/artist Elizabeth Hipwell knows this too well. “All I can think of is how alone I have felt in the journey of dealing with my bipolar depression,” she told me by email. “Mental illness is like no other illness. People disappeared from my life; family members judged and told me to ‘Buck up, and pull yourself out if it’ and ‘If you weren’t so fat you wouldn’t be so depressed.’“

She contrasted the experience of physical illness, and how those around her viewed it, with mental illness. “When I was physically ill I was visited in the hospital and driven home by loved ones; when I was in the mental hospital after having slit my wrists I didn’t have any visitors, I was berated on the phone for being selfish, and I had to get home by myself by bus. I felt abandoned. I ended up back in the hospital for the same reason a few more times after. I came to a point where I had to stop expecting support from those who just weren’t going to give it.”

Elizabeth concluded, “I decided to focus that energy on myself to heal. Maybe I did need to be ‘selfish’ as the naysayers put it and make myself a priority. I decided to reject the shame that they placed on me and be gentle with myself, forgive myself for being sick. I am by no means a victim and I hold no grudges. In hindsight, I understand that the reaction people had stemmed from fear and lack of knowledge.”

I was moved by Elizabeth’s comment: I decided to forgive myself for being sick. How many people with physical illnesses need to go through a process of self-forgiveness because of their condition?

Fear of those with mental illnesses can be traced very far back. Even to this day, many cultures and religions still believe that behavior symptomatic of mental health problems is caused by demonic or spiritual possession.

If one perceives someone with a mental illness as “evil,” “dangerous,” or “frightening,” how can compassion and support possibly arise?

Madeline Sharples is the author of Leaving the Hall Light On, which chronicles her son Paul’s mental illness and subsequent suicide.

She shared with me, “When my cousin came to our house to review and discuss the family history my husband had written, he made one request—leave out the part about his father’s bipolar disorder. In fact, he didn’t want to see a discussion of any of the mental illness that permeates my side of our family.” Sharples continued, “That was proof enough for me that the stigma of mental illness still exists.”

In Leaving the Hall Light On, Ms. Sharples spoke of the many ways in which she attempted to help her son Paul accept help and treatment for his bipolar disorder. She is more than aware of the deadly nature of shame and silence. “I know what a problem it (admitting a mental illness) was for my son. He worked for almost two years for an internet service provider, and when they heard of the reason for his death his co-workers were shocked to know he had any illness whatsoever. He was a master at hiding his bipolar symptoms. He didn’t want to take his medication, he didn’t accept needed hospitalizations, he just tried to act as ‘normal’ as he could.”

She concluded: “And that is probably what killed him. If he had taken the Mayo Clinic’s advice geared to erasing stigma—admit something is wrong, don’t feel ashamed, seek and follow treatment and support, accept help from family and friends—he might still be alive today.”

I have worked in the mental health and addiction fields for many years, but this topic is far beyond professional for me. In fact, my career choice was probably formed when I was 16 years old and my 19-year-old sister committed suicide.



Dolores suffered many years with a brutal pain that will forever elude identification. Her attempts, at the time, to self-medicate left her branded as a “bad” kid. I was raised in a very conservative, Roman Catholic family where seeking help for my sister’s suffering was frowned upon. Acknowledging that she had any issues at all would have been shameful. So, at 19 years old, my sister ended her suffering the only way she knew how.

And, for a moment, I was relieved. I was relieved because my sister scared me. Her pain and attempts to soothe it were ugly.

Back during the time of my sister’s death, people did not come over with casseroles and shoulders to cry on. In fact, no one came over at all. Had my sister died of cancer, a car crash, or a freak accident, I imagine support would have flowed. But, instead, no one said anything. No one came over. I remember vividly going with my mom to see a nun she sought solace from soon after my sister’s death.

“Suicide is a mortal sin,” she told my crying, grieving mother. “She can’t escape hell. She killed someone. She killed herself.”



So my mother was left to grieve the death of her child in solitude with the knowledge that, because she ended her own suffering, she would burn in hell. And, sadly, we haven’t come that far since that day.

But she wasn’t hopeless. And she wasn’t truly scary. But she was definitely scared.

For many years, I either lied or never spoke of my sister to new people I met. I felt covered in that darkness—a shared, silent shame. And I learned (because of the reactions of those around me at the time of my sister’s death) that others would see me as tainted by her illness—her weakness—her sins. The stigma spread to me as well.

My sister has been gone for longer than she lived and too little has changed in the public perception of mental health issues since then, but hope emerges.

Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Stigma Fighters work to empower individuals living with mental illness by removing the veil of shame and giving a public voice to an issue once too deeply hidden. The highly regarded Mayo Clinic has acknowledged the danger of stigma and has committed to providing education. Support for those who suffer and education for us all is vital if meaningful change is to occur.

On June 4th, I, amongst thousands of others, will be participating in the Out of the Darkness Walk in New York City. The walk is sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to raise funds for suicide prevention and awareness.

This 16-mile walk offers a visual representation both of bringing suicide and mental illness out of the darkness and the belief that each suffering individual can make it through to the light. Though my sister did not emerge from her dark night of the soul, it is imperative that the added burden of shame be lifted so that more of those who suffer can get through their darkest moments to a more hopeful dawn.

Regina Walker has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2014 ….

Regina Walker, LCSW-R, BCD, CASAC




April Is Childhood Abuse Prevention Month ~ A Deep Share Of My Story ~ We Just Want To Be Believed & Heard . . .

April Is Childhood Abuse Prevention Month ~ A Deep Share Of My Story ~ We Just Want To Be Believed & Heard . . .

Yes, I am a childhood sex, trauma, and abuse SURVIVOR . . . .


“According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, it’s estimated that 679,000 children were victims of child abuse and out of that number, 1,484 children died as a result in fiscal year 2013.”
“In 1983, April was first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month as part of an educational platform, and in trying to highlight the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse across the globe.”

And it has taken me many years to be able to share this. Taken many years to learn it was not my fault that these disgusting things happened to me. Many years I felt shame, broken, and spiritually trained. That ugly past haunting me until this day. Even after much therapy, overcoming, journaling, healing, walking through all the pain and hurt, today it still haunts my dreams into nightmares.

My psychiatrist tells me this is called, PTSD.  “Just another damn label to place on my back.”
And this was some of the underlying issues of why I got tangled up in addicted gambling. I used it to hide and escape those ugly feelings, hauntings and old pain. So desperate to not remember or feel anything ever AGAIN! When we turn to, and use any addiction to mask how we feel about our past, the damage is that then you don’t feel anything at all except hopelessness.

But why now? Why after all the years of recovery work, the hard inner work that I have done, and for my recovery from addicted gambling and alcohol abuse, why is this still taunting me? Childhood abuse is tough enough to have to accept, why was I chosen as to have my innocence been taken away from me as a little girl? Your left feeling confused, dirty, shamed, broken, hopeless, left in a dark black whole of non understanding of what is happening to me by my abusers, yes there was more than one. Sadly a man in our extended family, and a family friend of my parents. Then you go into the, “WHY ME GOD PHASE.”

Why God would you have this happen to me? When you get to an age where you find out that what happened to as a little girl was wrong. That it was inappropriate, and men disgusted me. They are sick human beings that shouldn’t be walking the face of this earth!!! Then something happens even more traumatic, all those prayers you prayed to God, to make him die so this boy would not ever lay a hand on me again DIES.   WTF?

He was only 19 years old. A friend’s son of my parents. They found him in his room face down in a pool of blood after he hit his head/temple, he was knocked out when this happened and landed face down. He choked on his own blood and died. I was stunned and shocked all at the same time! So I told GOD that I didn’t really mean it!! I really didn’t want him to die, just not to do those things to me anymore!!!
I just couldn’t process all of it. I felt sick to my stomach that I made this happen. More TRAUMA & Confusion.

Then when the sex abuse stopped? I began a cycle of dissociation. In my teen years I remember hiding in my room a LOT. And when I was around others? I would have a beautiful mask of happiness and comedy about me. No one knew what was bubbling way down below in my soul. They couldn’t see that big black empty hole inside me. Shit, even I had stuffed all this away so deep that at times I would even fool myself that I was happy, healthy and normal.

“Childhood sex abuse has been reported up to 80,000 times a year, but the number of unreported instances is far greater, because the children are afraid to tell anyone what has happened, and the legal process of reporting can be difficult. The problem should be identified, the abuse stopped, and the child should receive professional help. The long-term emotional damage of sexual abuse can be devastating to the child.

Child sexual abuse can take place within the family, by a parent, step-parent, sibling or other relative; or outside the home, for example, by a friend, neighbor, child care person, teacher, or stranger. When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop many distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviors.”


I’ve never felt normal since this happened to me. This carried into my adulthood. I feel it changed the way I looked at men, my relationships in my earlier years with men, and never feeling good enough. I deemed to gravitate toward men who abused me, I feel it made me more promiscuous at an earlier age. I was also looking for fatherly unconditional love I never got from my own father and also my mother. This also played a part in my relationship choices. Then through my teen years my parents were very heavy-handed when it came to discipline. My father would use a belt, buckle and all, and mom, well anything around her was a potential weapon! Wooden spoon, broom, rake, anything depending on the area of the house we were in.

But as I got older, early and late teens, my parents would use verbal abuse. My parents began the cycle of judging us by the friends we had, hung around with, and how they dressed. My father would also say many hurt full things to me. He had called me a drug addict, pill popper, just because he may have seen one of my friends smoking a cigarette. He even called me a hooker just because he seen the way few of my friends dressed. I just didn’t get why he would say these hurtful things to me? I wasn’t dressed that way. They were so judgmental. At times I couldn’t believe these two people were MY Parents! It got worse. When I got about 30, is when I sought help for the first time for sexual abuse. The therapist I was seeing at the time told me that I would, at some point, would have to tell my parents what happened to me a little girl. I felt sick.

WHY? Because all those years ago I remember all the lies I was told by my molesters. And I can tell you the biggest fear a child, or even now as an adult, telling someone opens that door to them “Not Believing that this happened to ME and I was telling lies.” It’s what my abusers told me if I told anyone about what he did to me. No will believe you!

So when I got the nerve to finally tell my mom over the phone, I was 31 years old, living in So. Oregon, married to my husband now, and when I told my mom? She freaked!! She went on the defensive as if I was questioning her parental skills. She told me she’d have known if that was happening to me, or to anyone of her kids. I was never trusted again. SO, again, another bitch slap to my face, as all the hurt and pain came rushing back through me like a flood of poison. My own mother didn’t believe me, nor my father when she told him. It was like being abused all over again. Needless to say, our relationship became strained for a few years. And I went on a very painful journey of addicted gambling for over 11 years. Why didn’t they understand this?

That’s when I went searching for something to help escape this pain! I was never a drug user, drugs didn’t do anything for me, and I never really drank a lot, so gambling addiction for me fit the bill! I did however lean toward alcohol the last few years before entering treatment for compulsive addicted gambling. We look for anything to just get rid of the pain and the hurt if you never address the issues. All of this left huge scars inside me. Endless on and off therapy, then Mental/Emotional disorders began to appear. Today I battle daily challenges with Bipolar Manic Depression, Agoraphobia with panic, pain with my depression, mild mania, and now having problems with PTSD again.


I had went undiagnosed for years. And the gambling addiction is what finally brought many of the disorders I was suffering from to light. But I’m still in care of a psychiatrist and on meds. I do this for myself, but for others around me. WHY? Because I don’t want to be another statistic. Another person fallen through the cracks of our mental health system. I don’t want to be suicidal ever again. I don’t want to hurt the people I love who support me. Yes, I do this for myself, but also for the people I care for as well. 2 failed suicide attempts were enough for me. I have to much work to do to help others who may suffer the same, maybe in recovery from addictions, and to continue to raise awareness of childhood abuse and sex abuse.

It’s time the public hear our many voices of childhood abuse. It’s time to educate, inform, and SHATTER THE STIGMA around all these important issues many battle with on a daily basis. Don’t feel sorry for me, I don’t. I am not my illness, I am not a victim, as hurt and pain does not rule my world. “Child Abuse and Sex Abuse” should not be happening in our world today! We were abused, so don’t accuse! I am a Survivor!

National Child Abuse Hotline ~  1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
National Child Sexual Abuse Hotline ~ 1-866-FOR-LIGHT (866-367-5444)

“I am a face and voice of Childhood Abuse in Healing and in Recovery!”

Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author & Advocate



Personal Blogs
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Some New Gambling Info From My Friends At Stop Predatory Gambling . . .

Hello And Welcome To My Recovery Update,


As many of my recovery friends know about me, I’m not one to shy away from
any topic that I try to help ‘raise awareness’ about, and to help educate and inform the public, all about gambling addiction.
Many still feel that this addiction is NOT a real disease.
But when someone gets so entangled and hopeless from this disease, which for some happens often but we never hear about it, the threat of suicide seems to enter the picture, and the addict becomes so hopeless that they feel suicide is the only option to stop gambling.

I know this myself first hand following my own 2 failed suicide attempts. Not only is gambling devastating enough with financial loss, loss of jobs, friends, family, and more, but I just about lost myself. And even though at the time I was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness too, the gambling and the mental illness just about did me in all together! I try to give others who have been through what I have been through a voice to be heard here on my recovery blog.

But my job, and what’s expected of me as a long-term recovering addict as well, is to share factual information to all who visit, as to accomplish why I started this gambling recovery blog in the first place. And someone else who does this very well is my friend Les Bernal, of Stop Predatory Gambling.

They are on top of government-sponsored gambling, how it impacts all our local communities in each state in the USA. I have known Les for a long while now, and the movement he had started years ago is helping to raise awareness about government-run casinos and state lotteries, and how they prey on the people who can not afford to lose. Here are a few things I feel are important to share from their monthly news letter I get from them, and it seems another has lost his life to addicted gambling, and from my HOME STATE of OREGON!

Oregon’s Problem Gamblers Awareness Day: ‘Gambling took that from us’
By Published: Sep 29, 2014 at 5:04 PM PDT

Oregon's Problem Gamblers Awareness Day: 'Gambling took that from us'
EUGENE, Ore. — It’s been nearly 20 years since Ronda Hatefi lost her older brother to his gambling addiction.

“(He) just needed everything to stop,” Hatefi said. “We talked about that just shortly before he died, he said ‘I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I’m not functioning, I don’t know how to make it stop’.”

She said, “her brother, Bobby Hatefi, struggled with a gambling addiction for about 4 years before he took his own life at age 28.”

He would go to the bowling alley to play video poker after work. He told his sister it quickly became an obsession.

Ronda remembered her brother telling her, “I don’t do it because it’s fun, I do it because I have to, the paper I put into the machine isn’t money to me, it’s just paper to keep the game going and I don’t know how to get rid of it.”

After losing her brother July 20, 1995, Hatefi decided to use her brother’s story to educate people about gambling addiction.

“That’s who Bobby was, he was an involved person in our family that we all adored and gambling took that from us,” she said.

Shortly after Bobby’s death, she started the organization Oregonians For Gambling Awareness, and petitioned Oregon’s governor to proclaim September 29 as Problem Gamblers Awareness Day.

The state has honored the day for the last 19 years, and Hatefi said she’s found a way to celebrate her brother’s life.

“Because I think honestly (if) Bobby were standing here beside me today, I think he would stand up for this fight,” Ronda said.

Hatefi passes out leaflets to every place in the state that has video lottery machines, hoping they’ll put it on their machines. She said she wants people to know that there is help, and there is hope.

If you want to talk about a possible gambling problem or know someone who may need treatment, call 1-877-MY-LIMIT (695-4648).

Oregon Lottery Signs. . .

StopPredatoryGamblng  ~ Is the BEST WAY to have your VOICE heard!

Dear Catherine,

Bobby Hafemann took his life because he became addicted to electronic gambling machines. Who was the primary sponsor and beneficiary of the machines that led to his death? His own state government. 

Bobby’s sister, Ronda Hatefi, has organized an annual day in her state for the last twenty years to remember her brother and all of those citizens who have been damaged by government-sponsored gambling.

To highlight the voices and stories of the millions of Americans like Bobby Hafemann, we are organizing the first-ever “National Day of Action Against Predatory Gambling” on Sat. Sept. 26 and Sun. Sept. 27. We will publicize how this public policy is dishonest, financially damaging to citizens and contributing to the unfairness and inequality in our country.

Through our creative actions we’ll call attention to the needed shift away from government’s dishonest, predatory and failed experiment with gambling toward a fairer, healthier and more hopeful vision of America’s future. Our common message: Predatory gambling cheats and harms everyone–even those who don’t gamble.

We’ve all seen the feel-good proclamations by public officials and their token efforts to stop the damage with their 1-800 phone numbers and their virtually meaningless “self-exclusion” policies. But they still keep the machines running, designing them to be even more financially damaging and addictive,  while continuing to push more forms of predatory gambling onto citizens and making it even more accessible. This is why we have to confront and protest.

There will be at least 100 separate actions across the United States.The “action” can be anything you (or your group) want it to be and the list of ideas is limitless. The action should reflect our common message. Some possibilities include: doing a visibility with homemade signs in your community, organizing a prayer vigil, participating in a “Freedom Players” event at a regional casino (or at a local restaurant/tavern with video gambling machines) and so on.

In the days ahead, we invite you to email your ideas for actions to us and we’ll put them together on one list to send out to everyone. It will help all of us to think of possibilities for our own communities.

Please commit two hours on the weekend of 9/26-27 to participate. We’ll connect you with the other people in your state who are taking action in the names of citizens like Bobby Hafemann, his family, and every American who has been damaged by the policy of government-sponsored gambling. Please confirm by emailing me at

Thanks and All The Best!

WOW! What hit me hard about Bobby’s story shared by his sister was the part where he told her, “money was just like paper to him, paper with no value other then keeping the game going.” I felt the same exact way! For me what I thought was ironic and CRAZY? I had spent 22 years in the Banking industry. Toward the end of my career, I was an addicted gambler. And I felt just like Bobby. I would spend my day helping customers with their financial futures, and I was throwing all mine away in those damn Oregon Lottery machines! I had NO sense of value of money when I got in that zone of addicted gambling. But also was using gambling to ‘escape old pain’ from my past childhood.

Well, I know I am planning something special here on my gambling recovery blog here for that weekend to Honor The Memory of the precious loss of Bobby Hafemann, and all who have taken their lives due to gambling addiction!
It is also how my current book got started, and how I begin my book of sharing my experiences that I went through with compulsive addicted gambling.
It was due to reading an article about a woman who shot herself in her Indian Casino hotel room. She committed suicide,  as the note she left behind said. It also had said that she was sorry, but she just couldn’t stop her gambling addiction. She had a bad relapse and weekend binge. And like Bobby, she felt it was the only way to stop.

So I hope you will mark your calendars to come visit my blog that weekend this coming September, 2015. Suicide is such a sad fact of many addictions. But it sure is the hush, hush part of gambling addiction. There are hundreds of stories like Bobby’s and mine, but they never get heard. And many who have not been ‘touched’ by any addiction, let alone gambling addiction, just don’t understand. Many loved ones are at a loss when a life is taken in this manner. It’s why I do what I do here on my recovery blog. To truly share the message of HOPE that anyone with a bit of effort and recovery work, they can take back the power that addicted gambling has taken from you, and from many others.

I may never know how my blog impacts others, or even if it helps anyone. But if I can change others perception, and give them knowledge about this cunning and baffling disease, if I change the landscape a little for others to give more support and compassion toward someone they know, or love that may have a gambling problem, or even stop just one person who maybe deep into gambling addiction, and know they are not alone, and can recover. Then the amount of hours I put into this blog is SO, SO, WORTH IT!

Are world and society is filled with so many positives and negatives, and gambling addiction is having huge negative impacts on many people, communities, and states. And now that 1% of our population are now problem gamblers?  “It’s Time To Talk About It!”.  .  .  .

God Bless All,
Author & Advocate, Catherine Townsend-Lyon