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Six photo series participants

These are stories of resilience and portraits of strength.

Real people whose struggles with mental illness or addiction left them feeling broken and alone. In their own words, six people share how even on the darkest days they reached out for help and found a path to resilience.

Their portraits showcase the variety of meaningful ways they find hope and strength in the face of adversity. In any year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will experience a mental health issue. Each year, about 4,000 Canadians die by suicide despite the fact that the underlying mental disorders behind it are treatable. No one has to die by suicide.

These portraits and stories are a reminder that you are not alone. There is hope, and there is help: 1-833-456-4566 


Jessie

"I've never been good at being vocal about what was going on in my mind or asking for help, but I found that through my creative outlets, I could get those sentiments across.

I'll dance to lift my spirit or listen to a song I connect with and it'll help bring me out of my dark place.”


In Jessie’s household, emotions were not discussed. “The topic of mental health is rarely discussed in South Asian communities. It’s often ignored,” she explains. The cultural stigma around mental health made it difficult to seek help as Jessie struggled with depression, anxiety and substance abuse for years.

Eventually, Jessie found strength and resilience in expressing herself creatively through story-telling, writing and dance, sharing her story to help raise awareness about mental health in the South Asian community.

» Read Jessie’s full story


 

Linda

"I now have the experience of getting through the dark times many times over, so I can draw from that experience when things seem bleak and hopeless."


As a teenager, Linda struggled with depression. In later years, she would be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition that led her to believe cameras were following her everywhere with people behind the lens who would laugh at her.

Thanks to an art therapy program, Linda herself has ended up behind the camera, capturing her own images and creating a new story and journey for herself.

» Read Linda’s full story


 

Tera

"Journaling is really important to help keep my mood and overall well-being in check day-to-day. It allows me to take a few minutes to recognize and appreciate the highlights of my day."


Mental illness has impacted Tera’s life since she was a young child. She was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety and Tourette’s Syndrome in Grade 3.

In grade 12, Tera experienced a severe manic episode despite not having any family history of bipolar disorder. She was not eating or sleeping for a week, and her mind was racing “like a non-stop caffeine buzz.” Realizing she was not safe to be by herself, Tera called 911, and was admitted to a psychiatry ward for one month for intensive treatment.

While in the hospital, Tera wrote a letter to herself as a reminder of her self-worth and acknowledged, “You are a fighter. Part of being a fighter is accepting the help and love you deserve.”

» Read Tera’s full story


 

Jason

"My dad was a journeyman electrician by trade and a very handy fellow. After he passed, I looked for something that I could have on me at all times to remind me of my dad."

Among his things, I found a square-cut nail that he’d shaped into a pinky ring. I now wear it and use it to keep me in the present."


Jason’s father and grandfather both passed away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a disease that gradually paralyzes people and has no cure. As a result, Jason had an overwhelming fear of developing ALS himself and dying of the disease. Although he did not have the disease, the fear was all-consuming; he suffered depression and was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Jason says, “The thing about surviving mental illness is that it has empowered me. I am a much more aware, sincere and grateful father, husband, friend, colleague, worker and manager. Due to the resilience of wanting to find an answer, wanting to get better, I have found peace.”

» Read Jason’s full story


 

Kala

"The number one thing I do to come to terms with my disorder is to talk about it. I talk about it with people I trust, those I know who love me for every quirk I have.”


What is beauty? What is perfection? In Kala’s words, “I am beautiful because of my imperfections.” This point of view didn’t always come easy. Kala has spent years struggling with Trichotillomania (TTM or ‘trich’), a repetitive hair-pulling disorder. Her trich is part of a group of body focused repetitive behaviours (BFRB), which for Kala includes hair pulling, nail biting and skin biting and picking of her hands.

Kala made the decision to attend a peer-support group for BFRBs. The first step was difficult, “I thought they might think I was way too messed up for even a support meeting to help. Instead I ended up finding my second family,” she says.

“Years later, I now lead the same group that helped me find my community, my self-worth and ultimately taught me there is life outside of a diagnosis. I have found purpose in adversity.

» Read Kala’s full story


 

Virginia

"I love to run. Running clears my head. I find it incredibly therapeutic. There’s also a real sense of camaraderie amongst runners. I like feeling like I’m part of something."


For years, Virginia refused to accept she had a mental illness. “I resisted the label ‘bipolar’ with every fibre of my being,” she says. It took three manic episodes, two depressive ones, various medications, and a nearly life-threatening episode of psychosis for her to realize she could no longer ignore that bipolar I disorder was a part of her reality.

After being admitted to hospital, and with the help of family, friends, therapy and medication, Virginia gradually felt better. Looking back, she says reaching out for help when she was feeling suicidal was a pivotal moment, “I was scared and thought my life was never going to be the same if I said something and asked for help. It was not the case. I had so much support. It was like a weight was lifted.”

» Read Virginia's full story


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Photography by Kevin Van Paassen
Copy by Jennifer Palisoc