Kieran B. Drachenberg

Kieran’s first signs of depression began when he was around ten years old. Already aware of certain mental health issues, his mother has bipolar disorder, he knew that it was not normal to feel tired and sad all the time or to have suicidal thoughts. But what he didn’t know was how to talk about it. Over the years, depression would take a physical toll on Kieran and he began experiencing amnesia gaps and unusual behaviour, prompting him to make an appointment with his family doctor. After describing his migraine and joint pains, he used his time alone with his doctor as an opportunity to tell him about his dark thoughts. He was referred to a specialist, who diagnosed him with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Just being able to put a name to his condition and symptoms was a relief, but Kieran still struggled more than he let people know. He was afraid of the “strange, weird and scary” symptoms, including the amnesia, which he felt he could not explain or talk about. Kieran still needed some time to get his head above water. To get there, he was able to count on the unconditional support of his family, his friends, his teachers and a trusted team of professionals.

Recently, Kieran struggled with psychosis where he was unable to differentiate between reality and the thoughts inside his mind. Having experienced psychosis in his younger years, Kieran knew his symptoms were unmanageable and he sought help, staying in hospital for several days. He was diagnosed with atypical eating disorder behaviours and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). These new diagnoses have changed Kieran’s experience and he feels there is still a lot of internalized stigma with DID, which can impede people’s ability to get help. He is not ashamed to talk about his conditions. He hopes that by sharing his story he can help create a world without stigma; where people can get immediate help and do not have to wait for a diagnosis.

Kieran is proud of how far he has come. Although he still has to deal with the effects of his illness every day, he can affirm that he is in a much better mental and physical state than before. Kieran sees his illness as a part of him. It has forced him to grow up quickly and develop human qualities such as compassion, empathy and a willingness to help others. His struggles have fueled his advocacy work, which today is his main focus. By taking tangible action, Kieran is working to help make the world a better place for people living with mental illness, while also supporting his own mental health and self-esteem.

In 2019, Kieran’s advocacy work took him to Brisbane, Australia where he served as the Youth Co-Convenor of the International Association of Youth Mental Health Conference, attended by over 600 youth and adults. Through this work, his goal was to encourage the voices of Indigenous, LGBTQ, disabled people and those with highly stigmatized (more acute) disorders.