Joshua_MentalHealth_StoryFeature_400x425How has mental illness impacted your life?

Over the second half of 2009, I developed more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression. I didn’t know enough about the warning signs to seek help right away and stigma prevented me from reaching out. I was a 22-year-old student at UBC.

After weeks of poor sleep, I could no longer hide what was happening. I admitted to my parents how stressed I was but it was only when I met with my family doctor that it became clear how depressed I was too. I dropped classes and tried to keep up with life but depression was too much to handle. I felt hopeless and beaten.

I started taking anti-depressants and saw a psychiatric resident at VGH’s Outpatient Clinic. Unfortunately my treatment began too late, and in January 2010 I attempted to take my life by jumping off the Oak St. Bridge. Through a series of fortunate events I survived the fall and was taken to VGH Emergency. I was also lucky to suffer no permanent physical damage, though I still have issues with back pain.

After my attempt, I took a semester off, and resumed my treatment. I took a course on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I saw a counselor weekly until months later when a psychiatrist became available. I studied mindfulness, met other young adults with mental illnesses and co-founded a volunteer mental health network at UBC.

My newest project is Mental Health Point of View (MHPOV), a website that shares my experiences with anxiety, depression and attempted suicide.

What is the biggest misconception about mental illness?

Mental illness only happens to people who are weak and lazy.

It’s not flaws in a person’s character that lead to mental illness but rather mental illness that change our personalities and views on life.

Any personality trait or characteristic can become unhealthy when distorted to an extreme. When depressed my personality changes greatly as I try to make my way through the day feeling a terrible level of sadness. I become cripplingly self-conscious, perfectionistic, negative, tired and have trouble concentrating and thinking clearly. This is not who I am when I’m feeling well.

What needs to happen to end the stigma and shame associated with mental illness?

We have to speak up about mental health and not be afraid to have ourselves associated with mental illness. There is no reason to feel ashamed of having an illness or supporting a friend or family member who does. Mental illnesses are as real as any other illness and just because their symptoms may not be as obvious on the surface doesn’t mean they are any less serious.

There’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness but there is something wrong when you are afraid to talk about it and cannot access meaningful care.

Why should people (who think they are unaffected) care about mental illness?

Even if you think you are unaffected by mental illness chances are someone you know, a friend, family member or co-worker, who is dealing with a mental health issue. Many people with mental health issues hide their thoughts and emotions because of stigma. Being supportive and just listening could help convince them it’s okay to reach out.

Also whether you know anyone or not, mental illness puts a huge burden on our health care system. Preventing mental illness by educating ourselves and reducing stigma can help prevent people from becoming sick and having to seek medical care.

What would you say to someone who is suffering from mental illness and doesn’t know where to turn?

I would tell them to speak to someone they trust, whether a family member, friend, doctor or counselor and let them know what’s happening. If you’re more comfortable on the phone or online there are also crisis lines that you can reach out to, whether you’re in a crisis or just wanting to find out more about what you may be going through.

What has helped you manage your mental illness?

I do lots to help with mental illness, here’s a list (not in order) of what’s most helpful for me:

• Antidepressants
• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
• Mindfulness
• Learning from other peoples experiences
• Meeting others with mental health issues
• Living a healthier lifestyle
• Talk therapy
• Advocacy

What gives you hope for your mental illness?

I’ve come a long way in my recovery and know that I can continue to do so. When I’m depressed my thoughts and emotions tell me I will never get better but I now know that these thoughts are what depression causes. When I’m depressed I stop listening to these thoughts. I know I am capable of recovery and feeling better.

I also know my family and friends will continue to be supportive.

Listen to Josh’s March 6 interview on CKNW with Jon McComb.


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