Mental Illness Awareness Week | Ann Dowsett Johnston

An award-winning journalist and author, Ann Dowsett Johnston is well respected for her expertise in higher education, alcohol addiction and public policy relating to both. For 14 years, she oversaw two bestselling projects: the Maclean’s University Rankings and the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities. Her book Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol explores the motivations, pressures and challenges that can lead women to drink in excess. Ann was featured at our Engage Speaker Talks in Toronto last month as a part of our Mental Health Panel. Here are some highlights from her talk:   NSB-Divider Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness.  The week was established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and is now coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) in cooperation with all its member organizations and many other supporters across Canada. In recognition of MIAW, we asked Ann to share her thoughts on some important areas of Mental Health:

Why is MIAW so important?

Mental Illness Awareness Week offers Canadians an important opportunity to further our growing national dialogue about one of life’s tougher subjects. As a person who has suffered significant depression in her lifetime, I believe it’s incumbent upon me to join the chorus of voices: to help reduce the stigma around this difficult illness and to pave the way for a more thoughtful appreciation of just how many are touched by mental illness in its many forms. I believe it is my responsibility to be open about my history, so that I can help others. We cannot do this alone.

How do we best overcome the stigma surrounding mental health discussion, as individuals and as a community?

With treatment and time, people can and do get well. This is an important fact, one that needs to be shared openly. We need to demystify the process of healing. With a convergence of voices in so many communities, we are de-stigmatizing mental illness. The dialogue has begun, and it must not go silent.

How can we better support in exchanging knowledge around mental health in Canada?

As a country, we need to invest in research, share information on best treatment practices and sound the call for further investigation. This is the century of the brain and we need to be relentless in our making mental health a priority.

How can we create mentally healthy workplaces?

We need to be able to support talented and dedicated individuals as they navigate the labyrinth of finding care, of getting and staying well. Employers can play an enormous role in this process of cultural change: by not shaming; by offering the resources to support employees in their transition to health; by encouraging those who suffer to take the opportunity to heal. Some of the most talented employees may suffer profoundly: when I was at the height of my depression, I was running the most lucrative university rankings for Maclean’s, winning National Magazine Awards year after year. I wrestled with severe depression for 12 years before getting appropriate help, too ashamed to share my burden with anyone. Progressive employers engage in the dialogue of anti-stigma campaigns, offer appropriate support and underscore the importance of work-life balance.

What has your processes of recovery taught you?

More than anything else, I have learned that I am responsible for my own self-care, for balancing my life, for making room for healing and health. I am enormously resilient and I have reclaimed my life. In fact, my life has never been more rewarding. But it has been a tough journey to make my way back to health. This is not for the faint of heart. In this era of smartphones and constant contact, both employers and individuals need to engage in an honest and productive dialogue about work-life balance. Professional women, especially, need to be alert to the self-care piece, to appreciate that they will need strong support as they manage families and seniority at work. We are in the middle of a massive sociological shift and we need to support our talented women as they navigate the journey of parenthood and professional achievement. There is much to be said on this subject and I would love to lead the way.   NSB-Divider Check back all week on the NSBlog for more speakers sharing their thoughts on Mental Illness Awareness Week. Previous speakers featured include: Frank Warren, Founder of PostSecret Rona Maynard,  Mental Health Advocate & Former Editor-in-Chief at Chatelaine.  

For more info on Ann, check out her NSB profile.