1,2,3 plus: Power to the People
How you can be in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own care
The new frontier
Online counselling is changing the way you get treatment
It is never too early – or too late – to play an active role in your own mental health
SUPPORT MENTAL HEALTH 3 Mental illness costs Canadian businesses $52 billion every year in lost productivity and leaves of absence. One in five of us will experience a serious mental illness within our lifetime; regardless of our age, background, ethnicity or economic situation. CMHA – Calgary Region’s mandate is to create awareness of mental health and to support and advocate for individuals and families living with mental disorders and addictions.
simple ways to support mental health in your community!
BECOmE A mIND LEADEr Make a difference for individuals, families and your community with a simple monthly pledge! BeCoMe A MeMBeR By pledging your support and purchasing an annual membership, you will be directly helping us achieve our goals, while receiving membersonly benefits, including a Balance E-Newsletter Subscription and voting rights at our AGm. DONATE A SINGLE GIFT Support our programs by giving once.
For details or to pay online for any of the above, visit us at
www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca CHOOSE AN OPTION Become a Mind Leader (Pledge your monthly support)
I want to become a Mind Leader. I authorize the Canadian Mental Health Association Calgary Region to withdraw my monthly pledge from my bank or credit card account on the 15th of each month or the following business day.
This donation is made on behalf of:
I pledge (per month):
an Individual $25
a Business Other $_____
PAYmENT INFOrmATION Payment Method Bank Withdrawal
(Single donation or Member fee only)
__________________________________________________________ Authorization signature for Pre-Authorized Debit (PAD)
Credit Card Information
Become a Member
I want to become a CMHA - Calgary Region Member. I authorize the Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region to withdraw my membership fee from my credit card account one time only or I have included a cheque: Standard: $20.00
Bank Withdrawal Information If you are choosing the monthly Mind Leader program, please attach a void cheque.
(Monthly Mind Leader Program only)
Make a Single Donation
I want to make a one-time donation to CMHA - Calgary Region. I authorize the Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region to withdraw my donation from my credit card one time only or I have included a cheque in the amount of: $_______________
Please provide the following information for your tax receipt and/or to receive member benefits if you are choosing the membership option. We respect your privacy and do not share donor names. Name: Address: City
Canadian Mental Health Association Calgary Region Suite 400, 105 - 12 Ave. SE Calgary, AB T2G 1A1 Tel: (403) 297-1700 Fax: (403) 270-3066 Web: www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca
Telephone: E-mail: TERMS: When you become a Mind Leader by giving monthly, your pledge will be withdrawn from your bank or credit card account on the 15th of each month or the following business day. If you wish to change or cancel your authorization at any time, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region in writing and your request will be processed within 30 days in accordance with the Canadian Payments Association. You have certain recourse rights if any debit does not comply with this agreement. For example, you have the right to receive reimbursement for any debit that is not authorized or is not consistent with the terms of this PAD Agreement. Please contact your financial institution or visit www.cdnpay.ca for more information on certain recourse rights, your right to cancel this PAD Agreement, or to obtain a sample cancellation form. Registered Charitable #122013139 RR0001
Spring issue 2012
Canadian Mental Health Association — Calgary Region in partnership with RedPoint Media Group Inc. General Manager
Science Advisor — Dr. Deborah Dobson, Angela Anderson, Lowri D'Sa, Kimberley Feist, Joan Landsiedel, Genevieve Roy, Geraldine Shklanka, Claudia Tomczyk Creative Director
Anders Knudsen Art Director
Corporate project manager
Andrea Hendry Printing
Transcontinental LGM Contributors
Angela Anderson, Jaelyn Molyneux, Lynda Sea, Leisa Vescarelli
A new Balance We announce a new future for the magazine. Message from the Executive Director
Resources Finding the right fit
Questions to ask when finding a therapist.
to the Balance monthly e-newsletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Statements, opinions and viewpoints expressed by the writers of this publication do not necessarily represent the views of the publisher. Copyright 2012 by RedPoint Media Group Inc. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the express written consent of the publisher.
Canadian Mental Health Association — Calgary Region Suite 400, 105 – 12 Avenue S.E. Calgary, AB T2G 1A1 Telephone: (403) 297-1700 Fax: (403) 270-3066
Feature Story Prevention 1, 2, 3 It’s never too early or too late to take action.
Moving Forward Power to the people
Balance magazine is published three times a year, with 11,000 copies distributed on newsstands throughout the city and 2,000 copies distributed by the Canadian Mental Health Association — Calgary Region. The information contained in this magazine is not intended to be a substitute for professional/medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified health professional before starting any new treatment.
You can be your own best mental health advocate.
Knowing More The new frontier Technology is broadening treatment horizons.
Real People Giving of herself A woman volunteers to help others like herself.
spring 2012 / Balance 3
Message from the Executive Director
starting this summer, along with the re-launch of our website, we will launch Balance in an e-newsletter format. The new format will be delivered monthly to your email inbox, and articles will be hosted on our website. We will still provide the personal stories of Calgarians dealing with mental health issues, but we will also be able to provide you with event information, timely news, interactive quizzes and more. Our hope is that the e-newsletter will become a two-way communication tool where we can learn from each other, and deliver the most interesting and helpful information possible to you. Please enjoy this issue and let it bring some insight, education or just another perspective to your understanding of mental health.
Dan Delaloye Executive Director Canadian Mental Health Association — Calgary Region
Photo by Alix Broadway
s many who are dealing with a mental disorder know first-hand, it can be overwhelming to navigate through the mental health system. The moments after someone has received a diagnosis can be confusing, and, if an issue is apparent but a diagnosis is yet to come, it can be outright frustrating. Each and every day, we at CMHA — Calgary Region answer emails, phone calls and even walk-in requests about where to go next. There are many resources available to people with mental health concerns, but they may be difficult to find, and parts of the system can be somewhat fragmented. That’s precisely what this issue of Balance is all about — the importance of prevention and being proactive in one’s own treatment, at whatever stage one is at in the journey. We hope to provide some additional resources you may not have been aware of. You can also visit our website, where we offer many helpful resources and information about mental disorders. I hope you find this issue informative and helpful. I want to take this time to announce an exciting transition for Balance. This will be the last print edition of the magazine. Our goal is to provide you — our readers, supporters and friends — with the most valuable, timely mental health information in the most convenient form. That’s why,
Announcing a new future for Balance magazine
Please sign up for our e-newsletter on our website homepage at www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca. For more information or help finding the right services for you, email us at email@example.com.
Letters to Balance We invite you to send us a letter with your feedback, comments, article ideas or to share your personal experience with a mental health issue.
4 Balance / spring 2012
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Select letters will appear online on the Canadian Mental Health Association — Calgary Region website.
*Please include your name and contact information in your letter. Your name will only appear online with your permission. Note that letters may be condensed for space.
the right fit You’ve decided to seek help. The next step is finding a therapist who is right for you. By Angela Anderson
hoosing a therapist is as serious as many other long-term choices in a person’s life — and the answers and process can be just as varied. No matter why you are seeking counselling, it is important to find someone you feel comfortable speaking to. It’s perfectly okay to meet with a handful of possible therapists and decide who you would like to continue with. However, be aware that, depending on the practitioner, some fees may apply for an initial consult.
Getting started Deciding which form of therapy, and which therapist, is right for you will depend on your individual situation. But there are some general questions the CMHA recommends you ask a prospective therapist to determine whether he or she is a good fit: “What is your theoretical or philosophical orientation?” “How would you describe the type of therapy you do?” “Do you use any special techniques?” “Where can I get more information on what you do?”
Longevity of practice The length of time the therapist has been in practice may also be important to you, as well as the overall nature of their practice. On his website Psych Central, Dr. John Grohol recommends asking questions that include: “How long have you been in practice?” “Have you seen a lot of clients with similar concerns to my own?” “When was the last time you treated someone with a problem similar to mine?”
Regulation is important The Canadian Psychological Association emphasizes the importance of knowing whether the practitioner is licensed. If, during therapy, you have concerns about the behaviour of a regulated practitioner, you can contact the regulatory body and check with them.
Where to go for more information For more detailed information on types of therapy, a complete list of questions to ask a therapist, as well as a link to a therapist registry in Alberta, visit www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca. spring 2012 / Balance 5
Feature Story By Leisa Vescarelli
When it comes to your mental health, it is never too late – or too early – for prevention.
s our understanding and perception of mental health has evolved, so has the meaning of prevention. It used to be that a person was thought to be in good mental health if they simply showed no signs or symptoms of a mental illness. Increasingly, we're realizing that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Instead, mental health exists along a spectrum from wellness to illness, with few
6 Balance / spring 2012
clear-cut lines and definitions along the way. It is complicated and there are many grey areas we must deal with. The concept of prevention in regard to mental health can be equally tricky to define. Like mental health, prevention is best understood as a spectrum. It can generally be categorized as primary, secondary or tertiary prevention depending on whether the strategy prevents the first occurrence of symptoms, the severity or recurrence of a disorder, or additional complications and disability associated
with an already present disorder. Although the goals of each type of prevention appear to be straightforward, in practice there is considerable fluidity — particularly between secondary and tertiary prevention. Complicated as it may be, prevention is crucial, especially in light of the fact that one in five Canadians will personally experience a serious mental or behavioural disorder in their lifetime. Prevention can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms and prevent them from developing into long-term and chronic disorders.
1 ion2 Primary Prevention
This first type of prevention is the easiest to distinguish. It seeks to reduce the risk of a disorder occurring in the first place. These efforts may be directed at the general public or a population group â€” such as school-aged children â€” or they may target sub-groups or individuals thought to be at an elevated risk of mental disorders. For example, people who have experienced trauma, abuse, displacement or bereavement may be at elevated risk.
"For most diseases, there will be risk factors and contributing causes to the emergence of that disease," says Dr. Scott Patten, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Calgary who also works as a clinician treating those with chronic illness and mental-health issues. "Some [of these factors and causes] may be modifiable, in which case, if you can modify those in healthy people, you can reduce the risk that they would develop the disease." Determining which risk factors play a role in the developmental pathways to mental disspring 2012 / Balance 7
orders and poor mental health is not as simple as it is for many medical or physical conditions, but Dr. Patten points to a few approaches that show promise, such as the HeadStart programs for socio-economically disadvantaged children in the United States. "This program targets children who are more likely to struggle and do more poorly than they should. The point is not to wait until that happens or starts to happen, but to be proactive," he says. Some conditions, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression, could be linked to certain perinatal complications, which, if reduced, may lower future risks of these disorders. In the general population, primary preven-
tion efforts are often focused on such things as stress management, work-life balance and mental health education and awareness, including strategies aimed at breaking through the stigma related to mental illness. Ashley Lamantia is an educator with the CMHA — Calgary Region’s Community Education Program, which promotes mental health and wellness among youth and empowers them to use healthy coping strategies and to seek appropriate help when needed. Led by program staff, inluding a trained teacher and a crisis counsellor, the program boasts a team of dedicated volunteers who give interactive presentations to approximately 20,000 junior
The Right Time is Now It's really never too early or too late to take action to improve your mental health. The following programs offered by the CMHA – Calgary Region can benefit participants across the spectrum of mental wellness. Community Education This program aims to increase awareness, improve attitude, reduce stigma and promote mental health and wellness through interactive presentations. To get involved, schools and community-based organizations can call (403) 297-1722 or email email@example.com. This program also welcomes volunteers. Workplace Mental Health Education This program is designed to break the silence surrounding mental health issues, as well as providing a better understanding about mental health in the workplace. For more information, call (403)297-1700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Peer Options Peer Options offer several programs where those with mental health issues can further their health and well-being by reducing isolation and building social skills. Ongoing peer groups include support groups for social anxiety and for those looking to sustain or upgrade their employment and working on workplace relationships. There are also opportunities to volunteer or become a peer mentor. For more information, call (403) 297-1715 or email email@example.com. Skills for Life Workshop This free eight-week interactive workshop is designed to help participants understand more about issues that impact their mental health. For more information, call Claudia Tomczyk at (403) 297.1701 ext. 1761 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find out more about all of the prevention programs offered by the CMHA by visiting www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca/programs.
8 Balance / spring 2012
high and high school students each year. Presentations include sessions on mental illness and stigma, suicide awareness and youth stress. While formal feedback shows positive outcomes, it's the in-person feedback that truly speaks to Lamantia. "We often have students come up to thank us afterwards, for talking in a really respectful way about something they've been going through or a family member's been going through," she says.
Secondary and Tertiary Prevention While it is easy to identify forms of primary prevention — as they precede any signs of disorder — secondary and tertiary prevention are trickier to isolate. They fall into what Dr. Patten calls grey zones. Generally, both secondary and tertiary prevention are for people who have already experienced a mental disorder or are currently dealing with a diagnosed, ongoing condition. The goals of these types of prevention are to either reduce the risk of a relapse or minimize additional complications associated with their disorder. It is hard to draw a clear line between secondary and tertiary prevention because of the nature of mental disorders. Not only are the risk factors and causes of mental illness complicated, but the onset and progression of mental disorders may be difficult to pinpoint. Heather* says she was already on a path toward discovering that she may have been experiencing symptoms of a disorder in 2004, when she picked up a copy of Balance magazine. "There was an article about the difference between shyness and social anxiety, and I realized that what I was experiencing sounded a lot like social anxiety disorder," she says. Heather contacted the CMHA and her family physician before entering a 12-week social anxiety program, which slowly and systematically helped her learn strategies for social situations, starting with very minimal exposures and working up to increasingly challenging scenarios. "We learned how to try," she says. "We learned how to take the risks and progress a little bit more every time." After completing the program, Heather joined a support group operated through the CMHA’s Peer Options program.
Though categorical definitions can be confusing, what shines through is the value of preventative measures across the spectrum of mental wellness. After completing the social anxiety program, she attended a course called “The Art of Friendship” — learning about things like boundaries, responsibility and commitment, as well as dealing with conflict. The next step was a peer support group called Circle of Friends, where she was able to practise her skills through social activities, group meetings and art walks. A couple of years later, Heather took the training program and became a volunteer herself, working with the same Peer Options support group she had been a part of earlier in her journey. Unlike Heather, Sara* had been diagnosed
with schizophrenia in 1989, but it was many years before she found the program that she describes as, "awesome enlightening and extremely helpful." While schizophrenia is a chronic disorder, it tends to be experienced in cycles of remission and relapse. Tertiary treatments aim to reduce the severity, course and duration of symptoms and associated complications. Sara participated in the CMHA’s Skills for Life program, where participants learn a variety of skills including self-awareness, problem-solving and stress management, in an understanding and supportive environment.
*Names have been changed
8 th An nu al
nt & Fly-Fishing De me a n r ur o fl T Go
"[In the program], we do a lot of talking about what I can do with my life, and what skills I need to learn and work on," she says. An important thing for Sara was learning how to cope with negative thoughts and not feeling very "healthy" or good about herself. "It gives you self-esteem," says Sara. "You learn how to live with your disorder and deal with things in a productive manner, instead of getting caught up in the negative thoughts." Though categorical definitions can be confusing — even among mental health professionals — what shines through is the value of preventative measures across the spectrum of mental wellness. Whether we seek to stop the first incidence, the recurrence or the worsening of a disorder, there are always strategies that can have positive impacts on our mental health and overall wellbeing.
Support Mental Health Services and Affordable Housing Join Honourary Co-Chairs Bruce MacKenzie & Bob Hamilton Se pte mbe r 1 3 th, 2 0 1 2
Spend the day fly-fishing on the Bow River or golfing at Cottonwood Golf & Country Club! Registration $350/person.
Your logo here!
8AM Boat Launch 10AM Shotgun Start 4:30PM Dinner & Auctions For more information or to register call Auction Items Requested (403) 297-1700 or visit: www.cmha.calgary.ab.ca or www.horizonhousing.ab.ca Sponsorship Opportunities Available spring 2012 / Balance 9
Moving Forward By Jaelyn Molyneux
Power to the
People Choosing your own combination of treatment puts you in the driver's seat when it comes to your care.
or many of us, a mental health diagnosis can make us feel like we are incapable of making decisions on our own behalf — like we must rely on others, maybe a family member or friend, to speak up for us, and/or that our own feelings and opinions about our treatment hold no value. While the support of
10 Balance / spring 2012
friends and family is important, when it comes to health, we can be our own best advocates. The most effective treatment often begins with feeling empowered to take a proactive role in deciding what your treatment plan will be. “The ability to be proactive has to be very much connected to hope in people,” says Debbie Wiebe, manager of the CMHA — Calgary Region’s community transitions team. “Hope
that things can be different and that they are the driver, not the passenger.” To be the driver, you have to be handed the keys and, in this case, those keys are the tools to navigate the resources available. Mental health treatment is not onesize-fits-all. Increasingly, treatment plans are becoming more integrated, with individuals choosing from a variety of program options
With the right information and confidence, people can participate more actively in their recovery process. in addition to traditional therapies. There are now many community-based programs that emphasize life skills and look at mental health in a more holistic way. Wiebe is a co-founder of the Peer Options Program, which focuses on social skill development through an immersion approach. The program sessions gather together a diverse group of people of mixed ages, diagnoses and stages of treatment to work on their skills and practise social networking. Just coming together with others in a room is an important step. “Depression and anxiety never get better in isolation,” says Wiebe. “It is about taking away the stigma and having people come together, share their experiences, and stop blaming and shaming themselves.” While it starts within the safety of the Peer Options group, the program teaches social skills that carry over into the greater community, including how to communicate with others that you want to be treated as an equal and with respect. As a result, participants gain self-respect and are more empowered to proactively cope with their symptoms. “The more they share with others, the more they feel their illness is not really a part of them. It is a stage or a symptom that they are going through,” says Wiebe. The Peer Options program looks past the diagnosis to cope with individual symptoms, which are common among many disorders, such as the symptoms typical of depression or anxiety. The idea is that living with a men-
tal illness is a learning process, an idea that fits comfortably with the integrated treatment approach. In addition to learning coping skills, participants learn how they can take action and make changes to help improve their mental wellness. Just like individuals without a mental disorder, healthy sleep and eating patterns, exercise and having a strong support network can all be part of maintaining wellness. “It is the dichotomy between care and control,” says Wiebe. “If we can self-nurture and take care of ourselves, we maintain that control over our own wellness. When people are proactive, they are able to set short- and long-term goals. They can see themselves on a journey and are able to make plans and follow through.” Part of taking control is being able to navigate the resources available without becoming overwhelmed. Benjamin Maze is CMHA — Calgary Region’s Advocacy Coordinator. He answers upwards of 200 calls each month from individuals asking for guidance on everything from care and treatment options to workplace rights for those who think they are being discriminated against. “I help people either understand or acquire the tools they need to self-advocate effectively for themselves, and I inform them of their rights,” says Maze. With an overview of the mental health landscape, Maze can see the larger picture. He understands that coping with stress and stay-
ing on track with treatment factor into everything, including learning how to approach your boss over a workplace concern, knowing how to find a therapist who fits your needs or asking your doctor about a medication change. Maze acts as a sounding board and a bit of a traffic director for people accessing the mental health system. When the idea of being proactive seems daunting, he can help by giving phone numbers of programs and services that might help, as well as his professional advice on which treatment streams each person might want to consider. In the end, he provides the knowledge and support and it is up to each person to combine strategies and programs to create a treatment model that works for them. Providing knowledge to a person seems simple, but it marks a shift in mental health treatment that encourages patients to be proactive, and acknowledges that they are capable of having a valid opinion in their treatment. And, because people are becoming more involved in their own treatment plans, there is a move toward customized integrated treatment plans that may have elements of clinical and community support, as well as a greater appreciation for the effect that life skills have on our wellness. “There is the ability for people to participate more actively in their recovery process,” says Wiebe. “It starts with feeling capable and understanding the holistic approach.”
spring 2012 / Balance 11
Knowing More By Lynda Sea
frontier Online counselling and new technologies are changing the very nature of therapy.
ithin the last five years in Canada, there has been a shift toward online counselling as mainstream practice. The practicality of it is clear to see — video-conferencing and emailing with a professional counsellor can make a lot of sense for individuals who live in remote areas, have mobility issues or are dealing with disorders that affect their ability to attend traditional sessions. But what is truly making
12 Balance / spring 2012
these approaches commonplace is the growing acceptance of computer technology in all aspects our daily lives, the convenience of seeking help on our own time and terms, and the proliferation of resources on the web. Therapists may also use online resources to augment regular sessions — keeping up with sessions when a client is away or having a client do additional work independently online. “We’re just seeing the beginning of it,” says Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos, professor and director of clinical training in the University of
Regina’s psychology department. In addition to video-conferencing and traditional chat rooms, there are websites that are moving away from being just text-based to incorporating more video and audio elements. There are some that even offer patients virtual environments they can log into. As the technology changes and gets more sophisticated, the range of online options is becoming more diverse, and users, both the counsellors and the clients, are finding new ways to use the technology to meet their needs.
Online technology is changing the way traditional therapy works, but not replacing face-to-face sessions altogether. Like all evolutions in care, it is important to discuss not only the real benefits of onlinebased therapy and resources, but also the shortcomings.
Plugging in “Right now, the number of people who have depression and anxiety who get treatment is so low,” says Dr. Hadjistavropoulos, who developed onlinetherapyuser.ca, a service that delivers therapist-assisted Internet cognitive behaviour therapy to residents in Saskatchewan who are suffering from depression, anxiety and panic. When it comes to mental health services in Canada, severe cases typically get better care. But for the majority of people who have mild to moderate disorders, it is increasingly difficult to see a psychologist — in addition to waiting lists, the service may not be covered, or if there is financial assistance, it may only cover a limited number of sessions. “[Using online resources], we get services to people who are suffering and are having a lot of disability and distress who aren’t getting help,” says Dr. Hadjistavropoulos. The wealth of information on mental health that people can look for answers online anytime. They can engage in peer support chat groups in addition to having reading material at their fingertips. This is significant because,
according to Dr. Hadjistavropoulos, people are more likely to seek help if they’ve read about it beforehand. “Lots of people have a stigma about mental health so they feel this is more confidential,” she adds. Some people may choose to enhance their traditional treatment using Skype — a video conferencing software — or by having email counselling sessions.
Tuning out Even with all the clear benefits of online therapy methods, Dr. Hadjistavropoulos cautions about a number of areas where technology’s effect on therapy has its setbacks. Access to more information could potentially encourage a patient to self-diagnose incorrectly. Worse, the wrong information may cause them to hesitate about seeking professional help. In most cases, online counselling is a supplement to face-to-face meetings. But when the interaction is only facilitated through the web, there aren’t any non-verbal cues and indicators in the person’s appearance — all of which can help a therapist when working with a patient. In person, miscommunications can be resolved quickly, but it becomes harder to be clear in an email. There also may be a delay in response from when a client sends an email to
when the counsellor sees it. In extreme cases, this can be quite dangerous. “If they become suicidal, you’re not right there to act,” explains Dr. Hadjistavropoulos. This online shift in therapy includes an expectation of computer access, which isn’t always applicable to everyone. Other concerns involve language barriers, especially when the patient is someone whose first language isn’t English. Most of all, there are questions about security and privacy of information. Hacking is always a concern so it’s important to scrutinize how secure your online therapy forum is. So how can you know if online therapy is right for you? Dr. Hadjistavropoulos is quick to point out that this online approach is not for everyone. “You need to be in the mild to moderate and lower risk [category], have computer skills, read and write well, and have access to a computer,” she says. While there are obvious shortcomings, the reality is that cyber-counselling is such a new frontier that it is possible today’s limitations will become less of a concern in the very near future. Services can be adapted and intensified for those who are tech-savvy, as well as kept straightforward and simple for those who are less comfortable online. What we do know is that online counselling isn’t going to make face-to-face therapy non-existent, but it might just make it better.
Protect yourself online Dr. Hadjistavropoulos says there are a few steps to keep in mind when you’re looking to start online counselling. When looking at a site, things you should be looking for are the qualifications of the person providing counselling. Make sure you’re seeing someone who is registered. They should be asking questions about you and
your background, getting a full picture of who you are and what you are dealing with. Pay attention to how thoroughly they assess your situation. And always ask how your personal information and exchanges are kept secure.
spring 2012 / Balance 13
Giving of herself Building on her own experiences with drug addiction and mental disorders, Dheny Rivas, 24, is giving back and helping others cope. As told to Lynda Sea
hen I was growing up, my family fought a lot. At its best, my family was dysfunctional; at its worst, it was abusive. I was 13 when I was diagnosed with depression. At the time, I had no idea what that meant. Mental illness and mental health weren’t things that were discussed in my family or my culture. At first, I was smoking pot a couple of times every two weeks. It eventually escalated to me being high from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. I began using other drugs, mainly prescription painkillers. And at about age 15, I began self-harming. I was in the emergency room constantly. I went through a really rough time when I was controlled by my own disorder, by the paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder and hypochondria, and I couldn’t function. 14 Balance / spring 2012
Everyone is worth the time and effort it takes to truly live life and not just survive each day.
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I actually sought help. I was at my lowest, my breaking point. I was agoraphobic and I couldn’t leave my house for about seven months. I said, "I’m going to make a choice here. This is either going to be the end of my life, or I do something." I didn’t want to give up and I kept telling myself, "Tomorrow will be better." While it wasn’t necessarily true, it helped me to hold on until it was. When I was 22, I was referred to CMHA for the Peer Options program. I started volunteering at the Art of Friendship as a peer mentor. I started feeling like I could do something in my life that didn’t just revolve around being sick, doctors’ appointments and therapy. I can do things for other people. That’s when I seriously started thinking about finishing high
school. Now, I've been accepted to the social work program at Mount Royal University. I start in the fall. I have a purpose in life now. I hope to be able to encourage other people not to give up on themselves. It’s a full-time job to retrain yourself to act, think and behave differently. It takes time, but everyone is worth the time and effort it takes to truly live life and not just survive each day. Even when things are seemingly hopeless, there are ways out.
See, Hear, Speak No Stigma
Congratulations to the winner of the In Sight, In Mind Contest! About the contest
Mount Royal University students submitted these works of art in a contest to raise awareness around mental health issues. Visitors to www.gotabrain.ca voted on their favourites and this was one winner. Congratulations!
About this piece
This piece portrays both the individual experience of mental illness as well as the negative societal attitudes associated with this issue. The frame consists of myths, enclosing all those with a mental illness into a group based on the misperceptions of society. The individual depicted is constrained by the hands of oppression, which represent the misperceptions of others. The ability to speak out, to be heard, and to be seen as a person beyond oneâ€™s illness is lost. The hands too represent a yearning for knowledge surrounding these illnesses, as well as a desire for understanding. This contest is brought to you by Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region in partnership with Mount Royal University Peer Health Education. For more information visit www.gotabrain.ca or mtroyal.ca/healthed/events
Congratulations to the winner of the In Sight, In Mind Contest! About the contest
Mount Royal University students submitted these works of art in a contest to raise awareness around mental health issues. Visitors to www.gotabrain.ca voted on their favourites and this was one winner. Congratulations!
About this piece
The most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, was the helping hand of another concerned with my welfare at a time when I myself could have cared less about my life. I have been fighting depression since I was born. The only thing worse than struggling with never ending sadness is hearing the labels some people use to describe me or someone else with mental illness. Aberrant. Odd. Peculiar. Strange. Deviant. Malformed. We are people. We have responsibilities and obligations just like everyone else. All we ask is for a bit of patience when we are engaged in the search for our inner balance. Isnâ€™t that what every human seeks? This contest is brought to you by Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region in partnership with Mount Royal University Peer Health Education. For more information visit www.gotabrain.ca or mtroyal.ca/healthed/events