On the heels of World Mental Health Day (Oct.10), my home department, Psychology, is organizing its first Psychology Mental Health Day on Oct. 18. I am so proud of Departmental Chair, Joanna Pozzulo, and our colleagues for this great initiative.
Talking openly about mental health issues, both their symptoms and their causes, is the first step towards addressing them.
The first time I heard Clara Hughes, Olympian and Bell’s “Let’s Talk” spokesperson, speak publicly about her difficult childhood experiences and subsequent mental health challenges, I could not believe it. “You can say these things out loud?” I remember my disbelief.
She told the Star in 2015: “It’s night, and my dad has just come home. My mom has set out his dinner, and he’s telling her everything is wrong with it. He’s yelling at her. He’s drunk. My mom is standing there, not saying anything.”
I saw that scene, and worse, hundreds of times growing up, as have countless other kids. I remember feeling terrible powerlessness and the shameful relief that if I just stayed quiet, I myself would be spared. How can that not lead to guilt, shame and self-hatred?
When you grow up in fear and shame, or experience abuse in later life relationships, you don’t come out shining, someone wise told me years ago. Depression, anxiety, anhedonia, disconnection from the self, substance misuse and abuse. These are not so much problems as attempted solutions in those circumstances. Understanding that fact made it easier to forgive.
I will always be grateful for Clara’s courage. She made me and so many others realize that I did not have to bear that weight alone, and that not speaking out only contributes to the silence.
I’ve been on a journey of slow recovery, and of learning to love life and myself again. It’s been amazing to progressively lift the veil of depression and see vibrant colours again. Today I am proud to be more fully alive, drug and alcohol free and, on a good day, close to gratitude. I am in debt to many wonderful people along the way. If I have one regret, it is not to have reached out for help sooner.
Carleton offers a wide range of mental health services to students, faculty and staff, through Health and Counselling Services, and a variety of wellness and support resources through the Mental Health and Well-Being website. We strive for continuous improvement of mental health initiatives and services through our Mental Health 2.0 Framework.
A few years ago, when I needed it, an Indigenous healer assured me that “even with seven arrows through the heart, you can heal” and given his life experience he would know. We must take heart that healing is always possible, and journey towards resilience, purpose and gratitude. What could be more important?