By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
STEPHENVILLE – The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Mental Health Week took place this year from May 2-8 with a particular focus on empathy, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes to understand where they are coming from and how they are feeling, completely free of judgment.
It wasn’t that long ago that mental health issues were something people kept quiet about and Keely McIntosh-Hynes has been grappling with her own mental health since she was young.
“Growing up with mental health issues was unique in a sense because I didn’t really know what it was. I knew that there was a pressure I couldn’t relieve, this nervousness where I couldn’t settle. I felt like people were always looking at me. I was very paranoid, but I thought it was normal because it was never discussed or talked about back then.”
McIntosh-Hynes said she was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety by a general practitioner when she was about 14 years old.
“I remember sitting in his office and he said to me, now relax. He touched my shoulders, and he was literally trying to get me to relax, and I couldn’t. That was all I knew of it. If it wasn’t for him, in a way, I may never have really known, because he was really good at what he did.”
Despite how difficult it was growing up, she considers herself one of the lucky ones because she had a support system.
“I did talk to my friends to the best of my ability, and they did their best to understand at the time. I couldn’t really go into a lot of detail. There were a lot of struggles. I had to keep a lot of it to myself. I could tell my mom certain things to a point. My parents didn’t have the awareness either. They grew up in a time where you strictly didn’t talk about,” said McIntosh-Hynes. “I did see other counsellors, but I went from social worker to social worker within the system since I was about 15. I just never really understood any of it, but I had people helping me. I was one of the fortunate ones.”
Mental health struggles were very stigmatized.
“You heard of it, but it was so negative, like there is something wrong with your head or you’ve got bad nerves. In a small town, anything wrong with your mind was just awful. It was seen as really bad and you didn’t talk about it. That’s the way it was portrayed,” said McIntosh-Hynes. “I remember explaining it to my boyfriend’s parents at the time, and they said, ‘oh what a sin that you’ve got that,’ pitying me in a way, and that’s how I felt for a long time. I felt bad, like it was a horrible thing to have. That’s how you were treated.”
Despite how little it was talked about when she was young, McIntosh-Hynes said it has become a lot more mainstream nowadays.
“There is so much awareness now, and sometimes it can be a lot, especially if you’re a person who goes through it. I know they probably know there are resources, like Doorways and Lifewise, but it’s so hard to get the courage to get up and go do that. It’s nice that they’re getting it out there and showing you what’s there, but a lot of people aren’t utilizing it, even in this small town.”
McIntosh-Hynes said that even with diagnosis, things have gotten a lot more detailed and a lot more is known about specific illnesses instead of everything being lumped together under anxiety and depression, but that comes with its own set of difficulties as well.
“A lot of times it’s so much more than that. It’s not just anxiety and depression. It’s bipolar, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, depression is moderate or severe, there are panic attacks, so it isn’t always just labeled under that broad title. With me, I found it harder when I got diagnosed with bipolar as well, some people feel like it is a relief and that is the case for some things with me but getting hit with another blow early in my thirties, that was hard for me to deal with.”
McIntosh-Hynes said that mental health week is a great way to bring people together, so they know they aren’t alone.
“I think sometimes it can get people with mental health issues engaged themselves. I’ve been engaged in a lot of things that have happened in the past myself, and it helps you be a part of a community, to meet others who also have mental health issues, and know that you’re not alone, showing that you are making an impact and standing up for something you believe in, live with, you are like role models for each other.”
Even though there are resources available, she believes more support is needed.
“Our province is in jeopardy with healthcare anyway, and because we’ve been in the pandemic for going on three years, mental health issues have skyrocketed and we know this, so the resources need to be more available. They need to find other alternatives.”
There are ways people can help those around them who are struggling with their mental health, and the biggest way is to listen.
“A lot of times people need to get their thoughts out be heard, be supported. People need to take them seriously when they say they’re tired or they can’t cope anymore. These things need to be looked at and really listened to because that support has to be taken seriously, each and every time a person says that because that time could be the final time for that particular person. Sometimes you just don’t know.”