Shatter the Stigma Mend The Mind

Brittany

Apr 16 2013

It was September 2009. I had recently turned 18 years old, and was in my first year at Brock University. I was away from home essentially for the first time in my life. The first few weeks at Brock and living in Residence were amazing! I was in my element—I was meeting so many different people and making new friends. I loved my program, my Professors and all my classes. But most importantly, I was excited about my future!

However, that optimism quickly faded and simply put: I was miserable. I had a pit in the bottom of my stomach because I was constantly afraid that something bad was going to happen to me or someone I cared about. One might assume that overtime when nothing bad happened, those feeling s would subside, but unfortunately that never happened-it only got worse.

I was scared to go to class, scared to hang out with my friends, scared to leave my dorm room. I found myself constantly faking a smile on my face, and continually asking myself ‘why can’t I just be happy?’ I had no idea what was happening or why I was feeling the way that I was, but I thought that maybe it was just part of the adjustment and transition to university. However those feelings persisted into October and only got worse. I was having panic attacks on a daily basis and began to obsess over certain rituals that needed to be done. I was constantly overwhelmed with negative thoughts and believed my future was hopeless. I started withdrawing from activities I once enjoyed, I started making excuses to not hang out with my friends, I stopped participating in my classes and eventually I stopped attending them all together. That was one of my rock bottoms where I knew that I needed professional help.

I went to see one of the counsellors and a doctor at Brock. That was when I was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was shocked. I was confused, embarrassed and ashamed. After being diagnosed, I was immediately placed on medication and began doing cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which essentially changed my life.

Prior to being diagnosed, I did not know enough about what mental illnesses were or what it meant to have one. As a result, I started educating myself about mental health. Nearly every essay that I completed from that moment on had to do with mental health. When I was in my second year, I wrote a paper on mental illnesses, stigma and the Mental Health Act. My Professor read my paper and informed me that I brought up many good points, which would be valuable for my fellow Child and Youth Studies peers to know. My Professor gave me the choice of whether or not to talk about how the issues personally related to me. I believed that if I were to talk only about my paper, but not indicate how it relates to me personally, I was only contributing to the stigma. In addition, I knew the statistics- one in five people have a mental illness. Thus, I assumed that I would not be the only person in that room with a diagnosable mental illness. I hoped that if I shared my story, others would do the same. So I decided to express my deepest and darkest secret twice-in front of 250 of my peers, each time. I was amazed with the positive response I got, and the number of students that came up to me to thank me for sharing my story, or opened up to me about their personal experiences.

Unfortunately, not everyone reacted so positively. There were people who took a step back from me, and made it pretty clear that they no longer wanted to be associated with me. It was hard to see it at the time, but I realize now that it is only a result of their own issues and biases. The reality is that not everyone is educated about mental illnesses, and people do not always know how to react. So how do we change this? I firmly believe that one of the most powerful and effective tools to do so is through education. Knowledge truly is power. That is why I am so proud to be a part of Niagara’s Anti-Stigma Campaign, because I know that this is making a profound difference in so many people’s lives.

I also know that I am here today because I sought treatment and was fortunate enough to have an amazing support system of family and friends. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been so worth it! If you have a mental illness, please know that you are not alone—there are so many people out there who have a mental illness, but you might not know it from talking to someone, hanging out with someone, or even being best friends with them. In addition, please know that having a mental illness does not define you—it is just a small part of who you are: I am not the ‘mental illness girl’ or the ‘depressed chick’, I am simply Brittany Marshall and I happened to have had a mental illness, but I know that I am a stronger and better person today because of it.

Brittany Marshall is a 21 year old graduate from Brock University.