Today it’s clear to Ian that openly sharing his own story can bring about positive changes in how people perceive mental illness. Hearing about another’s real-life experience increases our empathy and understanding, and in most cases leads to positive changes in how we treat people with mental health issues. As a clinical psychologist, Ian has made a point of speaking openly about the subject, because he understands that he is in a position to influence change. As a grandson, son, brother, uncle and father of family members living with mental illnesses, he feels it would be dishonest not to talk about it.
When he was a young boy, Ian had a hard time dealing with his emotions. Around the age of 8, he hid in his closet and tried to hold his breath until he stopped breathing. It was his first suicidal thought. As he grew older, he was forever inhabited by a sense of sadness despite being very active in team sports, committees and school associations. At the age of 17, he suffered a major depression that went untreated and made an undisclosed suicide attempt. He would feel the effects of this episode for the next 20 years, during which he maintained an extremely engaged and busy lifestyle, despite recurring depressive episodes. While Ian’s career flourished, his marriage broke down. His mind was so occupied that he was not aware of what was buried deep inside him. Finally, it was a personal event that led Ian to drop his guard. His 11-year-old daughter was hospitalized for a severe eating disorder in the same hospital where Ian worked. In a poignant cry for help, she asked that her father receive help to be less sad. To help his daughter, Ian would first have to help himself.
Since then, Ian has sought the help he needs to address his mental health issues, which still resurface from time to time. Realistically, he doesn’t try to overcome them but rather to continue living a full life in spite of them and to work toward whatever goals he has set for himself. Ian now sees his illness as a gift that makes him a better man and a better psychologist, as he is able to relate to his patients more authentically and act differently with them. He is far from perfect and he struggles at times making mistakes and bad choices but always trying to learn from them. For instance, as someone who remained silent for 20 years, he recognizes the immense effort it can take to speak up and ask for help. It is a perspective that can’t be learned from a book, and so Ian ensures that his students and colleagues are exposed to personal stories that broaden their horizons. He would like to see this type of teaching be included in the training programs of most professionals, in the interest of their practice and mental health in general.