October 8, 2012

Oct. 7-13 is Mental Health Week. It reminds me every year of famous helpers in history.

Simon of Cyrene fascinates me. I have wondered how he felt about helping Jesus carry his cross. Did he despise Jesus as a criminal or did he feel sorrow for a condemned man?

Tradition says that Simon's sons became missionaries in the early Church, so no matter what he might have felt originally, carrying Jesus' cross must have deeply affected him.

Everyone bears a cross. Some are heavier than others. Jesus' was the heaviest of all. He had all of us on his shoulders in addition to the cross itself.

Mental illness can be a very heavy cross. Those with the most serious illnesses may feel crushed by their crosses. I have friends who lead desperate lives even with the aid of our most modern medicines.

Unfortunately, medication isn't a cure. For some, it makes their lives manageable; for others, it barely keeps them together.

When I think about the Simons who have helped me carry my cross, first come my doctors. Those who diagnosed me when I became ill and helped me during my most desperate hour are certainly Simons. So was my father who helped me get treatment and convinced me to take my medication as directed when I initially didn't want to.

Then, there are the researchers who develop the medicines that allow me to have a decent life. The pharmaceutical companies that invest money and bring those medications to the public are often portrayed as bad guys, but new research would be impossible without them.

There are brave souls willing to be guinea pigs in testing the effectiveness and dangers of a new medicine. An important component was the province that allowed the medication I take to be listed on the formulary. The nurse who endures my backside twice a month to give me an injection is also a Simon.

I wonder what Jesus thought of Simon. Was he grateful for the help, or upset that he needed it? Jesus did accept the help. I've always thought that he looked on Simon as help sent to him from his Father.

Simon was a gift from God, and Jesus wouldn't refuse such a gift. I wonder though how many of us reject our Simons. When we refuse to let people help us, we are not only sending back a gift from God, we also deny someone the opportunity to be a Simon.

The medication that makes my life bearable is a gift from God. Refusing to take it, as so many with serious mental illnesses do, feels to me like throwing a miraculous gift back in God's face.


So many people have helped me over the years, I can't count them all. Some I probably don't remember.

What I do remember vividly are those I have helped.

In Mental Health Week, we all need to become Simons for those suffering with mental illnesses. Reach out your hand in friendship to someone who is isolated by their illness and the stigma.

Let a relative know that their illness is not an embarrassment to the family. Encourage someone who is having a hard time to seek help, and stay on their medication.

In being a Simon, anyone can become a gift from God.

(Austin Mardon is a member of the Order of Canada for his mental health advocacy and a science advisor to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He can be reached at aamardon@yahoo.ca.)