Depression, anxiety and substance use aren’t weaknesses — they are illnesses to be overcome — as acknowledged at a Mental Health Awareness Day in Shoal Lake last month.
And no one knows this better than keynote speaker Grace Melvin of Brandon, who shared her personal struggle with depression and anxiety with Grade 10 and 11 students from schools within Park West School Division (PWSD) at the Shoal Lake Community Hall.
She had had thoughts of suicide at the age of 13 with stigma and guilt burying her illness within.
“I put on an image that I was happy to get through the school day as a teenager,” she said. “By only portraying a positive image, it was extremely hard for friends to accept the fact I had depression, as how could happy Grace be not so happy at school.”
Melvin was able to seek counselling, and at the time was diagnosed with depression.
Ten years later, Melvin told the students that stigmatization of mental health only compounded the problem, adding that increased mental health awareness plays an important role in removing that stigma.
For Melvin, and thousands of Manitobans like her, she has come to learn that even though one may be faced with mental health matters, life with family and friends can be enjoyed. However, it takes courage and strength to be honest and open when dealing with mental health issues.
Over her young life, Melvin has seen a great number of doctors, some who looked at her illness as solely stress related. But the 22-year-old university-educated woman knows her journey is not over. Melvin still battles the demons, which revert her mindset back to the bad days from time to time. However, thanks to family, friends, positive role models, and community awareness of mental health, her life has changed for the better.
Summing up her experience, Melvin told the audience, “Remember the most beautiful flower comes from a pile of mud.”
In addition to Melvin’s presentation, 21 booths were set up covering different aspects of mental health.
According to PWSD student services co-ordinator Bonnie Slimmon Kiliwnik, mental health is one of the six areas highlighted in the Healthy Schools initiative. She said evidence and research show that awareness in early years, middle years and high school reduces risk factors and emotional and behavioural problems through learning opportunities.
When it comes to dealing with mental health, self-care and resiliency are crucial ingredients to a happy, healthy life. More than anything else, it’s what determines how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from coping with everyday stress to battling an illness to carrying on after a tragedy or crisis.
Five keys to resiliency are: Be Positive, Be Focused, Be Flexible, Be Organized and Be Proactive.
Self-care includes any intentional actions to take care of physical, mental and emotional health. So remember to choose your own pace and your own path.