Waking up with the world on your shoulders

Commentary by Katrina Owens

I recently read an article on CBC about a University of Alberta student committing suicide.

His unfortunate death resulted from his long journey with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mental health is an especially touchy topic for many, including myself. My heart goes out to his family and everyone touched by his story.

Similar to many Canadians, Evan Tran lived with a mental illness for most of his life. His family has said they are not embarrassed to say why he died, nor will they keep it a secret. They are not scared of the public knowing their son had a mental illness.

The stigma surrounding mental health is thick and unnecessary; would you be ashamed if you had diabetes, or cancer? In most cases, I presume not.

So why then do people living with a mental illness, something uncontrollable, live in a constant mindset of shame, embarrassment and self-resentfulness? I think it likely stems from the fear of ostracization. How sad is that? Any individual, of any age, shouldn’t be afraid to be 100 per cent authentically themselves.

Someone very important to me lives with an anxiety disorder that includes depression, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and paranoia. She lives with a very similar condition to Evan Tran, I couldn’t help but think about her while reading his story; I hope she isn’t too mad about the underlining topic of mine.

Growing up in a household where mental illness lay present made my childhood a difficult one. However I have to give a shout out to my mom and oldest sister for always being honest about what was going on, even in the toughest of times. I’ve always been aware of the downward spiral people experience whilst living with depression, anxiety and other disorders. I’ve seen how it affects relationships and other aspects of daily life. It’s hurtful knowing people like Evan and my relative feel like they have to suffer in silence because of the stigma clinging mental health. In a simpler, less judgmental world, I know they would be able to live freely.

I can’t fathom waking up each morning in a state of despair and having to head outside into the world. I’m assuming that’s why most depressed individuals opt to stay in bed. I applaud those who are able to stay strong even through the darkest of days. Much like an old cliché, I imagine the struggle they face is similar to being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do they talk about their issues, finally releasing them from their hold, or do they put on a brave face so they’re not labeled? A constant tug-of-war I game I gather.

You never know what a person is going through. Furthermore, we need to question and assess how we would treat such person if we knew they lived with mental illness. Evan Tran put on a brave face everyday up until his unfortunate death, similar to many other Canadians living with mental illness. One simply can’t know what’s going on in another person’s mind or what demons they’ve overcome just to leave their front door.

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