Shining a Light on Mental Health

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research says that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point.

March 31, 2013 | | Headwaters Nest

A few months ago I was invited to an evening event in Orangeville. The invitation was the fourth or fifth I had received that month, and I was tired after a long day at the office, the rush to get dinner on the table and a stressful week around the house. I longed to simply collapse on the couch.

But the invitation glowed on my iPhone screen, calling my name and telling me to muster the energy to get up and go. So I dabbed on some lip gloss and headed for the high school gymnasium.

There, the crowd buzzed. Some people had their heads down, some seemed nervous. Moms and dads arrived with their arms around gawky teens. Finally, the special guest appeared on stage. She did not disappoint.

Clara Hughes is a six-time Olympic medallist in cycling and speed skating. She is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. And there she was, in my high school gym! With her long, flaming red hair and infectious smile, she won my heart instantly. Her slight frame, draped in a soft creamy blouse, belied her strength, both physical and mental.

Two years ago Hughes decided to tell her personal story as part of Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign, which focuses on the need to break down barriers and support mental health programs. She was in Orangeville to help launch Allies for Kids Mental Health, an innovative new program offered by Dufferin Child and Family Services.

As Hughes spoke of her childhood, what a rough go it was, of drinking and trying to fit in with her teenage crowd, it was obvious that many in the audience could relate. She spoke of her insecurities, her triumphs and low points. And then, incredibly, she spoke of her battle with mental illness – and again, it was obvious that she had struck a chord with many.

If you have been held hostage by overwhelming self-doubt, the kind that saps your spirits to the point where you can’t summon the energy to do so much as wash the dishes, or if a friend or family member is experiencing this, you can probably relate too. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research says that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point. And according to the Canadian Medical Association, two in three will suffer in utter silence because they fear judgment and rejection.

As Hughes spoke, the crowd laughed, and cried. We enveloped this radiant young woman who was at once a triumphant Olympic medallist and someone who had been brought to her knees by personal demons. You could have heard a pin drop as several young women took the stage to share the reasons they were grateful to Hughes for coming to speak in our town. The first person to stand up during the subsequent question period was a man who may have been in his 50s. As he spoke, his voice broke and a small sob escaped. He thanked Hughes for putting words to her story. The audience nodded in unison.

Putting words to her story. That was what was most important to me that night, and when I later spoke with Hughes, I thanked her for the words. Not just because I am a writer, but because many people close to me live with mental illness. Yes, that’s right – people all around me.

The thing is that my generation, and generations before, have not had the words to describe things like depression, compulsions, serotonin uptake, anxiety, attention deficit, autism spectrum disorders and so on. There were no words for even the simple things we sometimes needed to say, such as, “I need help. I don’t think I can manage on my own.”

Now, we are learning the words. They are not perfect, and conversations about mental health may still falter. Expectations may collide, and the words may provoke crying jags, anger and blame.

But once the conversation starts, barriers can be broken down, and I can attest that things can get better. Our children will grow up with the vocabulary, and discussions about mental health will become normal. To support families, community resources, such as the Allies for Kids Mental Health program, have been mobilized. Mental health and wellness programs are available, and front-line educators have been trained to identify problems early. Did you know that Orangeville has a Talk-In Clinic? It’s like a walk-in clinic, but for immediate mental health needs.

Above all, brave people like Hughes – and you and I – can speak up about mental health. I am not afraid to say that a number of my friends and family members struggle with mental health challenges every day. My goal is to always be willing to talk and listen, and to learn from their experiences. It’s the words that help me do this.

Shining a light on mental health. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

Shining a light on mental health. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

More Info

Youth Perspective

Allies for Kids Mental Health, Dufferin Child and Family Services’ recently launched mental health awareness initiative, has already sponsored several presentations designed to help adults understand the mental health challenges faced by children and youth. Allies is interested in tailoring additional events to meet the specific needs and interests of community groups and welcomes inquiries and suggestions. For more information, contact Laura LaRocca at 519-941-1530, ext. 344, or e-mail [email protected].

Talk-in Clinic

The Talk-In Clinic at Dufferin Child and Family Services works like a walk-in medical clinic – but with trained counsellors on hand to help solve immediate problems and to provide information and support. Clinic staff can also help you connect with other DCAFS and community services. Just walk into the clinic at 655 Riddell Rd, Orangeville, or call ahead: 519-941-1530. You can also go to the DCAFS website,, to download a questionnaire that can be filled out ahead of time. The clinic operates on Tuesdays between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., but summer hours are in effect during July and August when the clinic is open from 3 to 7 p.m.

Check your relationship

Healthy relationships are the foundation for the mental health of the entire family. On April 9, the Dufferin Parent Support Network, in partnership with Family Transition Place, is hosting a free workshop designed to help you identify healthy – and unhealthy – relationships and to develop tools to deal with issues such as boundaries, anger and self-esteem. The workshop takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Princess Margaret Public School, 51 Wellington St, Orangeville. For information, call 519-940-8678 or go to the DPSN website:

Trellis and CMHA Peel

Trellis is a client-driven organization committed to helping individuals and families facing mental health and developmental challenges. For information, call 519-821-2060 or visit the Trellis website at Residents of Peel Region can access support through the Canadian Mental Health Association Peel, which offers a range of programs and services. Comprehensive information can be found at

Do you like to LOL?

The Caledon Parent-Child Centre presents Yuk Yuk’s comedians Jeff Elliot and Pete Zedlacher at the 2013 Laugh Out Loud! comedy event on Friday, April 19. Proceeds will benefit infant development and parenting support programs. Last year LOL raised $27,600! The event – for women only – features live comedy, fab prizes, a silent auction, an antipasto bar and … wait for it … a waffle station! If this doesn’t brighten your day, I’m not sure what will! Doors open at 6:45 p.m. at the Royal Ambassador Event Centre, 15430 Innis Lake Rd, Caledon. Advance tickets are $75. For more information, go to

Kids In The

Stay up to date will all kinds of kid- and family-friendly news and events at our website, devoted entirely to family life in Headwaters. And stay healthy!

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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