Mental Health Stories from Our Community

U of A students and staff who have been impacted by mental health are helping reduce the stigma by sharing their own stories. These community members show us that it's possible to flourish with appropriate supports in place.

  • Alicia F.

    At 16 years old I lost my father to depression and suicide. I was just starting my grade 12 school year when it happened. The day after his birthday, he was gone and there was no warning. I had previously dealt with anxiety but what followed was a complete spiral out of control. I developed PTSD, severe generalized anxiety, and bipolar 2. My life spiraled into a dark hole that I was unable to escape from. I began to develop bad habits to deal with my pain, which included failing grades, losing friends by pushing them away, bad spending habits, and falling into some scarily abusive relationships all in the search of love, acceptance and something to help numb the pain. I struggled and still struggle with my own suicidal thoughts and have some pretty terrible mental health days that leave me completely unable to function as I used to.

    I have been slowly finding my footing the last 6 years and have finally developed a schedule that allows me to keep my mental health regulated. I have also surrounded myself with people who care and love me. I also reached out for help from professionals, and have had open and honest conversations with professors regarding my mental health and how it effects my school work. Being able to have these conversations, and knowing that the university professors and staff as well as my own family and friends want me to succeed has drastically improved how I interact with life in general. I make an effort to go to class, to stick to my eating and sleeping schedule, and use the support that is offered to me. I know I am far from perfect, and of course have days where I feel like I have reverted back to square one, but I'm getting better little by little at learning to deal with my mental health, which is all I could ever ask for.

    Seeing mental health become a topic of discussion and all the new resources available gives me a tremendous amount of hope for not only future generations, but for myself as well.

  • Alicia Z.
    It all started back when I was in grade 8 when I had my first experience with depression. I was unable to express what was happening with me, but there was a darkness I was unable to shake. Years went by and I would continue going back and forth from depression to 'normality'. It wasn't until my first year at the University of Alberta that I was able to put a name to my darkness - major depressive disorder. I used the Counseling and Clinical Services on campus and I was provided with the coping strategies to manage my depression. I am now finishing my program at the U of A, however I still live with my depression. I take medication every day and see a psychologist, but I am not ashamed of that. I speak on public platforms (whenever possible) to raise awareness on mental health issues and to normalize it. Yes I have depression, but I am not defined by my depression.
  • Angela

    As a mother and a university student at the U of A, it has been such a challenging journey and will continue to be for the course of my life as a First Nations person in Canadian society. I am also an inter-generational and children services survivor; what I mean by that is that I have personally suffered racism, ignorance and stereotypical views that have been bestowed upon Indigenous people.

    My birth mother gave me up for adoption when I was just a baby because she could not properly take care of me. She left me in the Bissell Centre daycare, here in Edmonton. I went into children services and was then placed into a non-Indigenous home, where I felt more shame than ever before. I also felt isolated, unloved, abandoned and disconnected from my birth family and community. I have and I am still trying to figure out where I fit into society. For several reasons fitting in is not that easy because of the sense of belonging I lost through being adopted.

    It is possible I suffer from PTSD, ADD, dyslexia, and Irlen syndrome, and I have severe issues of anxiety and moderate depression. These are challenging to deal with, but I manage on a daily basis. What has given me hope is my strength, courage, faith, and my determination to be the best that I can be for myself and my two children. What has kept me going is my ability to not give up what I have worked so hard for and to one day help those who are like me. I want to help give back in ways that I am able to.

  • Carl
    About 4 years ago I went through a divorce, took on a mortgage by myself at a time when job security seemed low, and my sister and my mom were having health problems. One day, after a run, I experienced chest pain and heart arrhythmia. I felt as though I was having a heart attack. The doctor's prognosis was that there wasn't anything wrong, just my heart became irregular and if it stopped, to go back to the hospital. Medical doctors aren't trained too well with problems arising from the mind. I was having an anxiety attack. It felt like I was about to be hit by a bus, and the feeling gradually went away over 2 years. I began to have nightmares and PTSD symptoms, and was barely getting any sleep. The things that helped were the counselling specialists who deal with trauma. Luckily, my benefits covered a medical leave, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy which I was initially skeptical of, but now see it as very effective. Talking to people who knew what I was going through and could told me what I needed to do to heal was great. Friends and family were very supportive and helpful as well. I was surprised and comforted to see how common it was for people to experience at least some form of anxiety; I was not alone.
  • Clarisse

    It all started with physical and mental abuse when I was very young. I didn't think too wrongly of it since in our culture it is considered normal. I was aware that it was abuse when I reached grade 4 . In grade 7, I fell into depression. The first time I harmed myself was in grade 8 after becoming sick and tired of being told I wasn't good enough and that I shouldn't be alive. I thought hurting myself would end the pain. I remember in January of grade 9, I felt my mind fall into a deep despair and was very suicidal and depressed. In grade 10, I finally told my family after fighting them endlessly to listen for once about what I was feeling. I finally started seeing the doctor and was prescribed with anti-depressants. Fast forward to grade 12 where I met someone who accepted me for everything. In late December 2017 I finally left home.

    Now, I am in my third year of university and I am still struggling and fighting to be alive and to love myself. Over the course of these years I can go from feeling neutral to falling into the deepest despair, but it hasn't stopped me from living and moving forward. I am alive because of my older sister, my friends and my boyfriend, whom I all deeply cherish. With them, I know one day I'll be able to say that I'm truly happy.

  • Dawn

    As a person who is regularly happy, energetic, engaged, and bubbly, it was a complete shock when I started to feel something different. I didn't want to get out of bed, I wanted to have drinks every night, and I often felt like I was on the verge of tears or incredibly elevated. The day I took action, I had been crying for so long that I felt like I was going to drown in my tears or become numb to the world. I needed my brain to relax. I went to the doctor and they told me that I was severely depressed and anxious. They also said they were proud of me for going to them. I was met with understanding, compassion, and the validation that I needed. There was truly something off, and I didn't need to stay in the darkness. They started me on a treatment plan of medication, and I also started speaking to a counsellor, a mental health nurse, and a nutritionist.

    This help set me on a path of success, and although there are bumps in the road, I know that I'm continuously moving forward. It's hard. I felt embarrassed, I felt like I was alone and annoying everyone around me because I felt so sad so often, but in reality they were worried for me. I shouldn't have felt embarrassed to feel these things. People want to support us when we're going through struggles. We are strong, brave, and courageous when we ask for help.

  • Fahed

    I was born and raised in Jordan, in the middle east. Unfortunately, where I come from mental health is considered taboo and those who experience it live with a stigma. Having such a harsh judgment and opinion around mental health while growing up resulted in a lack of awareness on mental health. Arriving in Canada and being involved in community related issues, I immediately recognized the gap in my education around mental health and wanted to learn more. As a result, I served as a graduate student intern on a provincial project that aims to improve mental health accessibility and awareness. This project helped me realize the importance of mental health, and how a healthy life within the community requires constant and professional medical, social, and community support for mental health.

    Importantly, my lack of awareness of mental health had multiple impacts on my personal life too. Being a person who is not aware of mental health support and not aware of people who struggle with mental health issues caused me to lose people dear to my heart. My perspective on mental health made it difficult to provide the right support, help, and care for those I love who struggled with mental health; this was the greatest challenge in my life regarding mental health.

    It was not enough for me to just say I wish I could've done better; I started acting on it immediately and adopted the mental health support and awareness portfolio for my mission as the Graduate Students' Association Vice-President Students Services. The change I've seen in my own ability to recognize and support those in need has given me hope for the change we can make together. I hope to increase my ability to help when it comes to mental health, and at the same time increase awareness so other students can either help themselves or others around them when it comes to such an important health matter in our lives.

  • Guy

    I grew up with a loving family. My mother was supportive and kind, and my father believed I would do great things. My childhood was ideal. As I entered high school, my father began to struggle with bipolar disorder. His condition worsened over the next four years. He became verbally and emotionally abusive to those around him; his mania making me quick to anger. He had moments where he returned to his joyful self, but as time passed these moments became rarer and rarer.

    I sought help from campus psychologists in my undergrad which helped me process the damage from my past. I was able to see my dad for the first time following my parent's divorce on July 8. He seemed healthier and happier than I had seen him in a long time. It was a great visit, and I cherish it. On July 17, my father died in a plane crash. It was so sudden. I have no idea how to process his death. I have anger from my childhood mixed with sorrow, and feel alone in a new country with no one who understands my history or pain. I've reached out to Counselling & Clinical Services on campus in the hope that someone there can help. In my undergrad, talking to professionals was a pivotal part of my success, and I believe that the same is true now. I cannot handle this alone, and I am grateful that I have someone to help me.

  • Heather
    I'm learning what it means to be a whole person, and how my physical health, emotional health, and mental health are directly related to each other. I learned this through living with undiagnosed celiac disease for three years. In the years leading up to my diagnosis I had experienced repeated trauma (which likely triggered celiac disease in my body) and so when my mental health began to decline, I wasn't surprised but I also felt helpless to know how to help myself. I became increasingly isolated as my mental health deteriorated to a point where I was only functioning for four hours a day. I also didn't know how to access affordable supports. When I was diagnosed with celiac autoimmune disease I learned that gluten proteins were damaging my body's ability to digest food and therefore my brain wasn't getting the proper nutrients to be healthy. I still needed to find ways to process the trauma that I had experienced at the time, but it was life changing to find out the reason for my declining mental health. This experience has helped me know how I can be proactive with my mental health, what I can do for myself, and when I need to ask for help from friends or professionals. And, maybe more significantly, I've learned to listen to my whole self to decipher when I need to do this.
  • Julianna

    Naming changes scale. Whether you call it cyst or cancer, insomnia or clinical depression. Sadness is the last thing I want to give you, if it is the last thing I can give you.

    In art school, they used to tell us it is hard so say or do anything original. Some days I feel the same about mental health. The solution in art is to speak your truth, your way. The last thing I want to give this world I love is sadness, because any given moment could be our last. My beacons of hope in sustaining mental health are three fold: sleep, exercise and being in nature.

    For decades I thought that the weight of the world and the graphic gore ridden landscape of my dreams was caused by depression. It was only after I finally saw a sleep therapist (after dropping to three hours of sleep a night) that I finally turned that equation around in my head. Once I cleaned up my sleep hygiene and discovered six to seven hours a night was optimal for me, the darkness receded. Pillar one of my temple of mental health - sleep.

    Before I fully embraced that discovery, I did try the western medical crutch of medications - anti-depressants in this case. Last summer was the only time in my life I have had a family doctor I trusted enough to even try them. After they turned me into the equivalent of an autistic toddler, I then turned to exercise instead of medication. This allowed me to emphasize my individual needs and lived experience over prescribed generalized solutions. Exercise became my sleep and depression antidote. The side effects have been great! I'm eating less, my energy is up, and I have lost weight (which I know because of how my clothes fit, as I own no scale). Thus was established the second pillar of my mental health temple.

    What better place to exercise than outside? Kayaking, biking and walking have always been favorites, but when I discovered that Japanese family doctors have been prescribing 'forest bathing' for stress for over 30 years, I knew I had to make being outside a priority. My third pillar was always there, unrecognized.

    The fourth pillar of course is my loved ones - those who reap the benefits of the other three with me.

    Naming changes scale, but it also empowers us to take steps towards change. Naming my problems and carving my own solutions helped build my temple and keep the darkness at bay. It took me 20 years. Since I have committed to all three pillars, the benefits to my mental, emotional and physical health are countless. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, but I know this too shall pass. While I fully believe my best days are ahead, I know that when the darkness threatens again, I will have my temple to guide my way and see me through to the light once more.

  • Katherine
    I grew up with an incredibly supportive family, great friends, I excelled at school, and had a full slate of extracurricular activities that kept me busy and happy. Life was perfect. In my teens and twenties, though, I struggled to cope with stress and anxiety, I had very low self-esteem, and developed an eating disorder that plagued me for 15 years. I still remember thinking I could stop my disordered behaviours on my own, but I never could. I wish I had sought help much earlier than I did, but denial and shame always stopped me from talking to anyone. In a weird twist of fate, one of the worst times of my life made it easier for me to get the help I needed to live a much healthier life. In the midst of my graduate studies at the U of A, my mother was the victim of a murder-suicide. Suddenly, I knew that my longstanding attempt to present an image of someone totally in control of their life, was futile. I needed help coping with my grief, and in working with a psychologist at the Clinical and Counselling Services I learned how to open up to family and friends about my grief, depression, and eventually my eating disorder. Ten years later, I recognize that it shouldn't have taken a major tragedy to get help. I also recognize that I never would have imagined I'd be able to speak openly about my struggles, but so many others do so, and it has become easier with time. That gives me hope!
  • Lauren

    The first time I hallucinated voices I was working at my engineering work experience job. Two years later I still hear a constant concert of voices that I'm learning to ignore. Schizophrenia is hard to hide. I've clashed with police, cut and burned myself too many times to count, and had multiple suicide attempts. Nine months of my life were spent as an involuntary psychiatric patient. Years of my life were spent believing I'm a god; believing my thoughts could cause massacres and believing people could control my mind.

    The friction of schizophrenia molded me into a different person. I live life at a slower pace, and I've been forced to drop my engineering classes twice. I'm now an Open Studies student and I'm hoping to complete a degree in Native Studies.

    I have a life-altering illness, but I still have hope that life exists beyond illness. I have hope because I use joy as praxis. I am here to do the hard work of recovery and survival, but along the way I will take joy in libraries, Beyoncé, friendships, and people destroying the machinations of white supremacy.

    My survival has been a group effort. I've relied on the support of the Counselling and Clinical Services, the Peer Support Centre, and the forgiving and patient people in my life. It's possible to have a mental illness and be a student. I may hear voices for the rest of my life, but I won't let them silence me. This is my narrative and my story isn't over yet.

  • Nicole
    My mental health issues first appeared four years ago, but I convinced myself not to seek help because I didn't want to waste doctors' time when other people had actual problems. In April 2017, I finally decided to seek help and was misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder; in fact, the medication given made my life far more hellish than healing. For three months I was on and off different anti-anxiety medications, and my mental health deteriorated so severely that I experienced my first transient psychotic episode. To avoid recognizing pain, my mind was disconnecting from my body, so I'd pinch my arm and not feel it. In July I was referred to a psychiatrist who immediately started treating me for bipolar disorder, type II. From there I fought for another three months to find the correct balance of medications, while also attending bi-weekly psychology and psychiatry appointments. By October, I was exhausted and I faced a far more severe psychosis when I saw things that weren't real. Terrified that this would be permanent, I planned to end my life, but was stopped mid-action. That night left scars that are still with me, but thanks to my wonderful friends, family and treatment staff, I was able to come through the other side. I now use my experiences to speak out about mental health and to change post-secondary levels of support. The forthcoming modifications will make an unspeakable difference in times of struggle, and I am thrilled to use my story to help.
  • Raffela
    People are always surprised when I say that I have an anxiety disorder, because you can't tell by looking at me that anxiety affects every single aspect of my life. It affects how I view myself, how I interact with others, as well as my ability to accomplish everyday tasks. University is already hard and it can sometimes feel impossible with a mental illness. I know there are services on campus to help support mental health, but I often feel like I fall through the cracks of an over-taxed resource. Hope has been prevalent in my mental health journey, as I had to remain hopeful even in the darkest times when I thought that I wouldn't be able to accomplish the things I aspire to. I have to be hopeful that things will get better, and I know I can't give up. I'm not alone in this fight, and neither are you.
  • Samantha

    For nearly nine years, I've had depression. After having it for so long it made me realize something. Depression is not a linear experience. Depression can be likeTV static; time, people's faces, words, everything blurs and blends together. Depression can be staying in bed all day and allowing the numbness inside of myself consume me, isolation as my sole company. Depression can be violent;clawing my nails into my skin into my flesh till I break the skin, crossing the road without looking both ways. I sometimes think: "Why even bother?" No matter what kind of depressive episode I experience, I'm always tired. But I cope. After every episode, every relapse, I get up. Because I know that I am much more than my diagnosis. I am more than my depression.

    One thing I wish I would have realized sooner is that if I am to get better I have to actively try and do so every day. Even if I only have enough energy to get out of bed, it still counts because I'm putting in effort instead of just staying in my room all day and isolating myself. And because of that, I'm getting better and I will keep getting better too. Even if I relapse or have another episode, I will continue to get better if I keep going on and getting the support when I need it. And that gives me hope.

  • Tonia
    I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. In 2015 I was taking the highest dose of my anti-depressant medication and was feeling lethargic, apathetic, and suicidal. I spent a day in the waiting room of the psychiatry unit at the U of A hospital and had a 2-hour session with a psychologist and a short visit with a psychiatrist, who immediately changed my medication and dosages. I was put on a waiting list for their 18-week evening group therapy program, and by October of 2015 I was starting my journey in group therapy. The program changed my life and I am so thankful I got to spend the time to tackle my depression head-on. The therapy was intensive and required me to open up to a group of 20 other patients and a team of medical professionals. Group therapy is often uncomfortable and challenging, but it is the most rewarding thing I have ever done for myself and my mental health.