Talking for the most part doesn’t cost us anything. But for some who shared their personal stories of mental illness – there were potential costs to consider.
When he became president of the Ontario Bar Association in 2014, Toronto lawyer Orlando Da Silva had no idea how the association’s 16,000 members – including lawyers, law students, and judges – would react to his disclosure of depression.
Da Silva worried that people in his professional circles would never look at him with the same respect he’d earned during his 21 years of practicing law. He decided to take the chance. "I just felt it would help others if I shared," he said, "And it felt like it was the right time."
Da Silva has since told his story many times to many different audiences. Some say that his advocacy and outspokenness played a role in the formation of a task force by the Law Society of Ontario to proactively address mental health among lawyers. “I never expected to see that in my lifetime,” he said.
Taking a chance and making a difference
Meanwhile, Rona Maynard felt like a lone voice in the wilderness when she disclosed her struggles with depression to her Chatelaine readers as editor back in 1997. She didn’t know what the reaction would be, but took the chance because she felt that one way to battle her personal regrets was to make a difference for others living with depression. “I had this nagging sense of regret and loss for all the risks I didn’t take, the fun I didn’t have and the family times that I couldn’t enjoy because I wasn’t really present,” she said. “As I thought about my editor’s letter for that issue, it struck me that I could do something positive.”
She wasn’t aware just how big that something would turn out to be – opening the floodgates to thousands or readers who shared their own stories. Maynard continues to change the world with her stories as an active speaker on workplace mental health.
Writing the next story at any cost
Journalist and author Jan Wong’s hard fought battle for recognition by her employer that she was truly ill with depression is well documented in her 2012 book Out of the Blue. But when she considered writing the story the voice in her head kept telling her she would never work again. “But I had no choice. This was my next story and I had to write it. I couldn’t go on to the next thing until I did.” Jan continues to write and is also a professor of journalism at St. Thomas University.
Rewards outweigh the risks
When the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace started work in 2008 on developing a series of videos that would feature a variety of employees from different backgrounds talking about their personal experiences with mental illness while at work, there were some who felt that going public would be too costly to their future career prospects.
Fortunately, the majority of those who chose to take the risk and become part of the free online resource Working Through It have reported back that the positive support and encouragement they have received since this resource was created has been rewarding.
When six-time Canadian Olympic medalist and mental health advocate Clara Hughes decided to speak publicly about her experience with depression, she wasn’t sure anyone would care or if she would be stigmatized as a result. She has become a leading voice for Bell Let’s Talk Day, a campaign that has raised over $73 million since it began in 2010. People are clearly listening and supportive.
Angela recently shared her story of working successfully with Schizo-Affective Disorder. She is continuing to help bust the stigma around those whose illness may involve psychosis. She shows that even though her mental illness was once serious and disabling, people can and do recover and are able to work again.
Many others have stepped up and told their stories despite potential costs to them personally or to their careers. Their voices have helped to carry the movement forward in a way that is beyond words.
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