May/June 2012 By: Mary Simon

When my mental health was getting worse, I experienced the darkest days of my life. I could not feel the hope and happiness that I had previously felt, and thankfully that I feel again today. When I got sick I felt“different”— and I later learned that this feeling was called depression. In my case I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It felt as if life was not worth living,and I carried a heavy burden that I could not seem to let go.There was a sadness in my head and in my heart that would not go away.

Eventually I ended up in the hospital,but I was ashamed and didn’t want to talk about my illness. I now realize that mental illness is just like any other sickness — it needs to be treated by medical professionals. In that way, breaking a bone is no different than suffering a devastating depression that leaves you unable to feel happy or whole or be able to function on a daily basis. Having gone through this I know, I know you can be treated and you can get better.

We can overcome the stigma and shame that often surround mental health issues simply by talking about them—by acknowledging that they exist and seeking support. I am no longer ashamed of what I went through — it has made me a better person.

It is the stigma surrounding mental illness that makes us sometimes think that psychological pain is not as urgent or as worthy of treatment as physical pain.

I truly believe that everyone can get better with the right kind of help—medical attention as well as counselling. I know it works. Sometimes it can take many years to overcome depression. It took me a long time.With good support from doctors, psychologists, friends and family I was able to get better and I became stronger for it.

It can be embarrassing to admit that we need help,but we cannot make any situation better by refusing to talk about it. I have decided that I will tell my story and I will not be ashamed. I hope others will begin to tell their stories too, so that we can begin the discussion, so we can begin to heal.

We need to break down the barriers that keep people who need help from seeking it. Community-based efforts such as the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line in Nunavut make it easier for people in trouble to reach out.This volunteer-run initiative provides anonymous and confidential telephone support in English and Inuktitut. Something that many people might not know is that the service operates across Canada — and throughout Inuit Nunangat.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation also provided needed support in the form of healing workshops. It offered a welcome flexibility in allowing communities to develop projects according to their own needs. It is sorely missed.

At ITK,work continues on a National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy with the regions. A national plan will allow Inuit to collaborate on this critical issue, to share success stories such as Kamatsiaqtut, and to develop new Inuit-specific initiatives that will work for us.

We need to be able to offer proper mental health diagnostic services,care and counseling, and after care in our communities.Those services are currently not available. So talking about mental health is only the beginning. It is the beginning of a movement.

And although the pain is great and the statistics are daunting, I have hope,and I know we can turn things around. I have worked hard to bring this issue to the attention of governments.