Advocating for Mental Health
Advocacy has been tremendously helpful in my recovery, helping to me understand my illness, connect with others and share my story.
Only a few weeks after nearly losing my life, I knew I wanted to help others dealing with mental health issues. At the time, I was fuelled by anger and frustration. I had only really started on my recovery after I had put my life in jeopardy and I was upset that no one was able to reach, convince or force me to realize that recovery was possible.
I started with writing about my illness and the experiences I had been through. It was a good way for me to begin to articulate what I was experiencing. One of the best ways to learn more about something is to teach it to someone else and sharing my experiences forced me to take a step back and examine what had happened.
Though much time has passed, a mix of anger and compassion still drive me to advocate and help others avoid similar experiences to the ones I went through. I wish to inspire those (like myself in the past) who think they can’t be reached.
Timeline of Advocacy
My first step towards advocacy came from meeting others with mental health issues. In September 2010, I started attending a weekly peer-run mental health support group at the University of British Columbia (UBC). I continued to attend almost weekly for two years.
- My first public exposure came from an interview, on first name basis, with the Canadian Press. I was uncomfortable with the words “depression“ and “mental illness” being attached to my name but at the same time I knew I wanted to reach out and help others.
See: “Discussing stress and mental health on campus“.
- Soon afterward I became a volunteer and facilitator at a mental health support group at UBC, helping to establish it and raise awareness about it on campus.
- Early the following year, I co-founded the Mental Health Network (MHN) at UBC. Its purpose is to coordinate and promote collaboration among various mental health initiatives and groups on campus.
- Around the same, time I joined a young adult speakers bureau, sharing first hand accounts of mental illness. After working on my speech for a few months I gave my first presentation at a college in September 2011. I made over a dozen public speeches in the months following, speaking with high-school and university students as well as staff and faculty members.
- In 2012, through volunteer connections, I was invited to provide patient feedback for Outpatient services at Vancouver hospitals including Vancouver General Hospital, where I had been assessed and received support.
- In January 2013, I handed off my responsibilities with the MHN and began working on individual advocacy projects. I started by writing an op-ed for UBC’s student newspaper. With minor edits, this is the text that appears at My Story. This was an important step in my recovery as it was the first time I shared my experiences with my less immediate group of friends, acquaintances, co-workers and others.
See: “Falling through the cracks: A UBC grad on building a new mental health safety net.”
- The preceding article was read by a high school friend who contacted me for interview with macleans.ca.
See: “University of B.C. graduate opens up about suicide.“
- A few months later I had another op-ed piece published; this time in the Vancouver Sun. The article drew attention to mental health preceding British Columbia’s provincial election.
See: “Who Cares About Mental Health?“
- Most recently, over the summer and fall of 2013, I have been working on MHPOV.
Advocacy has played a large role in my recovery though I have pushed myself too hard at times. It can be difficult to talk about my experiences and it’s often hours or days later that I realize the full extent to which doing so has affected my mood and thoughts. I now try to proceed at a slower pace with a steady focus on sharing my story with a wider audience. I don’t intend to be such a vocal advocate for mental health for the rest of my life, but I feel I have much to accomplish before moving on to primarily exploring other interests and projects.
I advocate for myself; not only for the person I am today, but for the person I was leading up to 2010 when I tried to end my life.
I like to hope this is the type of resource that would have been able to convince me to seek help earlier and to trust in the ability of my mind and body to recover with treatment.