Wednesday, we went to MindFest, a one-day mental health convention. It was held at the Hart House on the University of Toronto campus, which, let me just say, was a gorgeous venue.
We were pumped for the day, set up our booth complete with our banner, new pamphlets, and a few freebies, ready to take on the people and answer the questions we knew were coming.
We attracted a lot of people and pretty much heard this on repeat all day: “Okay, so what does BFRB mean?”
And we’d explain to mixed variances of confusion and eyes lighting up because they understood, knew someone who had a BFRB (and just didn’t know what it was called), or because they had one. We probably met a good dozen people who said they picked, pulled, or bit to some degree, so it was really interesting to chat with them and exciting to see them take our pamphlets of information. Actually, it was exciting to see anyone take out pamphlets of information. We even had several practitioners come over looking for resources for their clients.
My favourites encounters were a middle-aged man coming by to ask how he can help his friend who picks his skin when he’s stressed and a woman who said she’s a picker who is raising a picker, who became increasingly more excited with everything we told her. It was like watching lightbulbs turn on in succession — a stream of brilliance coming to life.
While we expected the confusion and the questions, I don’t think we had quite prepared for stigma and rudeness at a mental health convention. Within the first 20 minutes, we encountered two men who proved steadfastly to me why we need to keep doing what we do and keep speaking out to break down stigma.
The first was a man who just seemed like he only wanted an argument or to be right. His “okay, so what does BFRB mean?” had a condescending edge which continued when he asked if it’s recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and, if so, which edition.
When I told him that the term BFRB wasn’t in the DSM, but the disorders it covers are, he did an eye-roll and gave an “uh-huh.” The impression I got from this encounter is that he thought we were pseudoscientists trying to push the next trendy disorder to have. At first, it annoyed me, but after hearing that he did this to at least one other booth, it just confuses me. Why were you there if you don’t believe in mental illnesses?
The next man came to our table maybe five minutes or so later, looking like he’d be an academic or a professional. He, too, asked what BFRB means and when we explained what they encompass, his response was, “Don’t do drugs?”
He didn’t seem to believe us at first when we said it’s not drug-related until we said it’s related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Only then did it satisfy him that we weren’t, what seemed to be in his head, a bunch of druggies coming in to foul up the place. (Which in and of itself is a whole other stigmatized issue, of course.)
Don’t get me wrong, besides these two encounters, it was a fantastic experience that we’re raring to have again. We made so many connections and had so many meaningful conversations that it’s all worth it. Realistically, the day as a whole showed that we and our work are needed since we were able to share about BFRBs with so many people who had never heard of them before. So that’s what we’re going to do: keep talking and keep educating.