Manon is a psychiatrist. The reason she is now speaking about her mental health issues is that, for too long, she was told not to—she was told to keep it quiet. “It could harm your future, your career,” some said when she returned to complete her psychiatry residency after going through an episode of clinical depression. Manon followed that advice and began a career in the public sector without ever mentioning anything to her colleagues about the psychological suffering she herself had experienced. She kept her secret for nearly 20 years.
Manon’s life was active and fulfilling. In the 2000s, she served as president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) while also working at the hospital. Her various duties gave her a first-hand perspective on the enormous stress, even distress, experienced by some colleagues in the healthcare community. As a result of helping her patients, she also understands that nobody is immune from mental illness. Mental problems can affect anyone, no matter their profession, ethnicity, age or social status. Despite that fact, the subject of discrimination remains practically taboo and people suffering from mental illness continue to do so in silence. Manon decided to use her personal and professional experience to make a difference. At the end of her term as CPA president, she surprised colleagues with a speech that focused on her own episode of depression. In addressing the Association’s members, she delivered an essential message: the vast majority of people with mental illness have the potential to recover and make a significant contribution to society. Manon’s experience is proof. So there is both an individual and a collective responsibility to recognize this potential and ensure that people going through a difficult period are able to recover.
Manon’s statement triggered a flood of initiatives. The community seemed ready to change and to take the necessary steps. The CPA tasked her with forming a working group to fight stigmatization and discrimination in mental health; she would serve as its chairwoman for 10 years. She was also appointed to the board of directors of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and served as an instructor in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). Thanks to this frontline training that is available across Canada, more than 300,000 Canadians now have the tools to better manage problems related to mental health.
Unfortunately, while Manon worked to change the conversation and attitudes about mental health, the trials and tribulations of life pushed her into a second depressive episode. Shortly after opening up publicly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatments she received were effective against her physical illness, but weakened her mental health. Manon, who made this her signature issue, had to take the time necessary to regain her balance. Supported by her family and friends as well as her colleagues, who were waiting for her to continue the noble work she had begun, she was able to recover. But not without suffering. The bright spots on the horizon—the outstretched hands of her loved ones, her personal projects and those for mental health—enabled her to focus on the future, once she was ready to do so. She also notes, with complete candour, that she has the medication and the care she received to thank for her recovery. With much happiness, she finds her balance in the cause that she champions, her work as a psychiatrist, fly fishing, horticulture, spending time with family, and travelling. Manon had the potential to regain her mental health and was able to do so by having access to caring help that was free of any judgment. That is exactly what anyone suffering from mental illness is entitled to.