Mental Illness Awareness Week | Rona Maynard

Rona Maynard -Mental Health Advocate and former Editor-in-Chief of Chatelaine Magazine– tells stories that inspire courage, build community and kick-start life-changing conversations.  Rona became a mentor and friend to millions of Canadian women who recognized their most intimate challenges and dreams reflected in her stories.  She told the truth about her victory over chronic depression, proving that a history of mental illness is no barrier to joy or success. Rona was recently featured at our Engage Speaker Talks in Toronto as a part of our Mental Health Panel. Her powerful message was candid, passionate and moving, showing the audience why Rona is one of Canada’s most powerful advocates for Mental Health. Here are some highlights from Rona’s 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 Rona to share her thoughts on some important areas of Mental Health:

Why is MIAW so important?

MIAW gives a voice to all of us who have struggled in silence with afflictions of the mind that are so often ignored and stigmatized. It provides a forum where our stories can be shared–stories of hope and achievement, not just anguish and isolation. With every story shared, others find inspiration to break their own shame-filled silence. And the world sees proof that we are not broken people. We teach your kids, build your homes, write your books, look after you when you get sick. We’re all around you. And one day you or someone you love could be facing a mental illness, too. Listen to us. Walk with us. Together, we can put diseases of the mind on an equal footing with diseases of the body.

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

What will overcome stigma is a wide-ranging public conversation. The place to talk about this subject is not just the therapist’s office (where far too many people never go, either because they can’t find treatment or because they’re too embarrassed to seek help). The place to talk about mental health is wherever people gather–workplaces, schools, community centres, parenting programs, churches. One downtown Toronto church recently offered a program on depression–and promoted it on a sign with flashing lights. That sign sent a powerful message: it’s okay to talk about depression. Finally, every compassionate, observant person has a role to play. A friend of mine once struck up a conversation with a visibly distressed young man she encountered at a bus stop. She let her bus go by while listening and offering encouragement. Years later, she learned that this man had been contemplating suicide. Their conversation saved his life.

How can we create mentally healthy workplaces?

In a mentally healthy workplace, everyone knows three things. First, bullies will be called to account. Second, people who are struggling with stress or depression can talk about it without jeopardizing their jobs, just as they could if they were dealing with a physical problem. Third, the organization has a protocol and a pathway back to productivity for employees who find themselves unable to cope. Too many organizations fall short of the mark–managers don’t recognize the warning signs of a mental illness until it is far advanced, and then don’t know how to broach the subject with the employee. Managers can’t break this painful silence on their own. Real progress depends on commitment from the top.

What has your processes of recovery taught you?

Depression has been a great teacher. It’s given me compassion and courage. It has opened my eyes to the private suffering of countless people who out on a brave face for the world, as I used to do when my fantasies involved a bathtub and a razor blade. It has taught me to celebrate the shining moments in every day instead of dwelling on what went wrong. It has made me grateful to be here, lending my voice to this life-saving conversation.   NSB-Divider Check back all week on the NSBlog for more Mental Health speakers sharing their thoughts on Mental Illness Awareness Week. For more info on Rona, check out her NSB profile.