In response to the numerous tragedies that have recently occurred across Ontario, VHS would like to speak up about mental illness which is a subject that directly or indirectly affects every student worldwide. At VHS, we hear many stories from our students about their mental health concerns. Some of these experiences have been from

  • Students who have anxiety to the point that they cannot be in a classroom setting
  • Students who battle with all levels of depression
  • Students who struggle with eating disorders
  • Students who have attempted suicide
  • Students who are seeking support through treatment centers

VHS wants to speak out to support all individuals battling mental illness to let them know that they are not alone, that help is available, and that there is hope. We published a blog post in May in response to a challenge to #GetLoud for Mental Health. If you haven’t seen the video of all of us dancing yet, check it out– it was a great opportunity for staff to take a few minutes to have fun for a very important cause and to bring a smile to a few other faces, too.

But we want and need to do more to raise awareness about mental health. So, we asked our staff and students to share stories about mental illness so that we can show students that they are not alone. By reading these stories, we hope our students will learn more about mental illness: that is, how common it is, and that it’s important to seek help. The response was phenomenal. First, let’s talk a bit more about what exactly mental illness is.

What is mental illness and what causes it?mental-health-1420801_960_720

Mental illness is often hard to understand for individuals who are not directly affected by it because such difficulties cannot be easily seen. This results in  mental illness being stigmatized, and this causes many people to hide their illness and avoid seeking help when they need it. So, today and every day, let’s continue talking about mental illness and work toward ending the stigma surrounding it. After all, mental health is just as important as physical health and overall well-being are. Examples of common mental illnesses include:

  • Anxiety Disorders (for example: Generalized, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Mood Disorders (for example: Depression and Bipolar Disorder.)
  • Schizophrenia/Psychotic Disorders (for example: Delusions and Hallucinations)
  • Eating Disorders (for example: Anorexia and Bulimia)

As is the case with other illnesses, some people are affected while others are not. Believe it or not, heart disease was thought to have little biological basis 100 years ago. Doctors had to observe a patient’s physical appearance and listen to that person’s subjective concerns. Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, believes that mental illness is today where cardiology was 100 years ago (Weir). And look at cardiology today – doctors have many tools to help diagnose patients and provide them with the treatments they need.

The American Psychological Association explains that the treatment of mental illness cannot be one-size-fits-all (Weir). Currently, mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety cannot be diagnosed through a scan in the way that an illness like schizophrenia can be. Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are caused by genetics, biology, and environmental factors. Epigenetics research has shown that certain genes can be expressed or not expressed, depending on environmental inputs (events in one’s life). For more information on the theories surrounding mental illness, visit www.apa.org.
Reference: Weir, Kirsten. “The Roots of Mental Illness: How Much of Mental Illness Can the Biology of the Brain Explain?” Science Watch 43.6 (2012): n. pag. Web.

  • 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime.
  • Only 20% of Canadian youth who need mental health services receive them.
  • Studies have shown that once depression is recognized, help can produce positive outcomes for 80% of the people who are affected.
  • More facts
Our Stories

As mentioned, we gathered stories from VHS staff and students on their experiences surrounding mental illness. The response we received was phenomenal – people want to talk about mental health. Over the next several weeks, we are going to share these stories through our blog. Expand the boxes below to read the first 3 stories we received.

As of 3 years ago my mom was diagnosed with being bipolar and schizoaffective.

Wow I think this is a great idea to be raising awareness about mental illness it’s a huge topic that many should be informed about. As of 3 years ago my mom was diagnosed with being bipolar and schizoaffective (pre-stages of schizophrenia), she went from being the loving caring mom to an angry sad and depressed individual and we didn’t understand why. It was hard for me to accept because my mom was so different afterward and I always knew her as a caring loving lady, and we always shared laughs and had a great time although after her diagnosis it’s like I became her enemy and it was hard to accept that instead I lashed back. Everyone viewed my mom as the scary crazy lady and always felt the need to tell me my mom was crazy. I went along with it for a while because I hated the way I was being treated. However over time and after counseling I realized that mental illness is something that can’t really be controlled, I realize it’s not her true self and I have to still love and respect her. The therapists say things will only get worse regarding my mom’s emotions and hallucinations and thoughts therefore the only way to handle that is to treat her with love and respect and to remember that everything she does that might seem “crazy” you have to remember isn’t really her, it’s her illness. I have learned to love my mom in a new way where I look out for her and ensure that she feels safe and secure where she is despite how she might lash out. Always love others around you because everyone has a heart and soul, and every person is just as much human as you.

I’m only 17, and I’ve already had to talk four of my friends out of committing suicide.

I’m only 17, and I’ve already had to talk four of my friends out of committing suicide – one of them was my girlfriend at the time. I know I wasn’t the one depressed and it was them, but they don’t know what crazy emotions were running through me. I can never forget those experiences. If you are feeling depressed, just know there are people who care for you.

I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years. It started in 7th grade.

I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years. It started in 7th grade, and I’m just about to graduate from 12th grade. My parents didn’t believe that any of the symptoms I was suffering from were indicative of mental illness. Even my mother, who is a nurse, just thought it was “teenage drama.” Only in May of 2016 did they finally realize how bad my mental health actually is. I went to my family doctor to get birth control and slyly request some antidepressants. The nurse practitioner ran me through a couple of tests and then went “Well, your situation is at the point where you’re at risk of killing yourself, so I’m going to send you through the emergency department to see a crisis counselor.” My parents were totally shocked by this revelation. I’d been in therapy for about a year at that point for my anxiety, but they had no idea how bad my mental health actually was. Luckily for me, I very quickly got started on a prescription for antidepressants and got diagnosed with major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and social anxiety disorder, as well as a notable exhibition of symptoms of borderline personality disorder. It’s a lot to live with, and it took a really long time to get medicated like I wanted to, but in the end, everything lined up. I’m very lucky to have received the treatment that I did. The antidepressants are helping a lot, and I’m feeling much better than I did just over a month ago.

Thank you to the students and staff who shared these stories about their experiences with mental illness. Check back for more in the coming weeks. Let’s keep this conversation going by sharing these anonymous stories with people you know. By talking about it, we can help save lives.

Getting Help

As with any other illness, it is important to get help if you have any mental health concerns. Many people and organizations are ready to hear your stories and eager to direct you to help. The first thing you should do is build your support system – family, friends, doctors, help lines, or community support groups are great places to start. KidsHelpPhone is a free counseling service that is available 24/7. Here is a list of crisis lines for locations around the world. Share your feelings, talk to people who have experience with mental illness and recovery, and learn more about it. Remember that every person is affected by mental illness, whether directly or indirectly. You are not alone.

Providing Support

Supporting a friend or family member with mental illness is not easy, but it is very important. Here are some ways that you can provide support:

  1. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses so that you are able to identify these early.
  2. Help the individual get help. Find out what treatment might be best for that person by offering to make appointments and by informing health professionals about what’s going on. Such actions may be necessary if the individual is not well enough to do so on his or her own.
  3. Help the individual remember medications, attend appointments, or follow treatment guidelines.
  4. Help out with the individual’s day-to-day activities, if needed, by providing information on nutrition, doing house work, assisting with finances, etc.
  5. Provide emotional support by making the person feel less alone by sharing stories and directing blame away from the individual.
  6. Join a support group for families and friends of people with mental illness.

Reference: “Supporting a Friend or Family Member with a Mental Illness.” Canadian Mental Health Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2016.

Please share stories and encouraging words in the discussion section below. Let’s keep this conversation going!