Mental Illness: How to get help in Ottawa and be an advocate

DISCLAIMER ~ I'm not a professional mental health care provider, this post reflects my personal experiences. ~

It's Mental Illness Awareness Week (#MIAW)! Being an avid mental health advocate, I couldn't not write about that topic this week. 

Mental health gets two big weeks per year. One in October and one in May. In between we have Bell Let's Talk day which sparks a lot of conversations too but I think we need to be talking about mental health more than three times a year, as a society. 

I personally talk about it a lot. I have a fiery passion for spreading awareness about the issues and sharing stories of people who live with mental illness. As many of my readers know, I've seen the struggles of family members with mental illness and most recently my own, making my connection to the cause mightier than ever. 

Had the opportunity through work to promote mental health to college students today. 
Today I'm going to do my best to share how I got help for anxiety and suicidal thoughts but also touch on how you can be a mental health advocate and raise awareness. 

I have seen a huge shift in the way people are talking about mental health. It's not perfect but I do think we are much further along from five years ago. Of course, there are still many people who simply don't know enough about mental illness or have been told or taught not to speak about it, and that's where a lot of the stigma still lies. 

What I'm seeing more of in the past year is that people are speaking more openly about mental illness but are unsure of how to get help and where to turn. Or when they do access services, there are long wait times or the treatment they need isn't available in their area or is too expensive. And the list goes on. I simply don't have enough pages on my blog to delve too deep into the many flaws of our current system, but I can share my experiences.

Getting mental health help in Ottawa: 

Generally, everyone should see their GP, family doctor, or a clinic doctor first. They can point you in the right direction and refer you to different services. From what I know, counsellors and psychiatrists are covered by OHIP however psychologists are not. There are also psychology students who offer counselling sessions for free or at a low cost. You can also go directly to an organization or community centre that offers counselling services. While there are some fantastic doctors out there, most mental health services in Ottawa have waiting lists of weeks to months.If you're a student, you have access to mental health services at your school that will most likely have a shorter wait time. Scroll to the bottom of this page to learn how to access services at your school.

If you are put on a waiting list:
The Internet can be a beautiful thing when looking for help, support, and for relating to others in the same situation. There are so many great self help websites, support websites, blogs, videos, pictures, and more that relate to mental health and healing. I was constantly researching and reading about what other people in my situation have done and it made me feel less alone and hopeful. Practicing mindfulness is another helpful tool. Check out the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic

If you're reading this and you feel as though you're in a state of recovery and want to stay that way, I would suggest checking out WRAP groups. It stands for Wellness Recovery Action Plan and it is taught in groups throughout the world. They help you create a plan for staying well and what to do if you find yourself in a crisis situation again so you are better able to handle it. 

For a full list of mental health resources in Ottawa, visit this link.

Here's what helped me:

When I was at my worst mental health wise, I was experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. The panic attacks were about one every week or so and the anxiety and suicidal thoughts came almost every day. It was debilitating to say the least. You can read the full story on that here. 

When I had finally summoned the courage to first admit that I needed help, I truly wasn't sure where to turn. My sister suggested I see a counsellor and she gave me a page of numbers to call from the resource section of her campus health centre. 

I was frightened and unsure what to say when I called but I knew I had to. I knew I wanted to see a counsellor or psychiatrist and wanted to try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or talk therapy. I had a strong inclination that would help me. Family Services Ottawa was one of the places listed on the paper my sister gave me so I gave them a call. They charge a small fee based on your income. I didn't have any health benefits at the time so I decided they would be a good option. They were very kind on the phone but let me know I would be on a wait list for two to three months. 

It sucks to be put on a wait list when you truly need help ASAP. However, I was happy to be on the list and it gave me hope. I also knew that wait list wasn't too bad compared to others I've heard. After three and a half months, they called and said a counsellor was available. I actually almost didn't go because I felt like I was better all on my own but decided to go anyway. 

My first session was so good. I let out so many emotions I didn't even know I had and my counsellor taught me so many great skills and tools for dealing with my more intense thoughts. I continued to see her once a month for nine months. Each session was as helpful as the next and after nine months of talk therapy combined with intense self care, I no longer had suicidal thoughts and knew how to cope with my anxiety. If you're curious, I paid $25 per session there. 

This is just what has worked for me and it's different for everyone but I would definitely recommend seeing a counsellor or psychiatrist or psychologist. Someone who can teach you how to challenge your thoughts, take control, and learn more about how your thought patterns work and how to change them. Some people may also need to take medication in combination with talk therapy. Finding the right treatment can be tricky and takes time. Know that there is nothing wrong with taking medication, or talk therapy, or both! Whatever it takes to get back to you and your life, is all that matters. 

Part of my self care: meditation. This is Christine and me at White Tantric Yoga last weekend. I'm still feeling so blissful.

How to be a mental health advocate:

If you are truly passionate about mental health and raising awareness, I think that will come across naturally in everything you do. It's a no brainer for me to challenge stigma in social situations, to retweet mental health facts or stories on twitter, to share my story and provide a voice to those who can't, etc. 

As much as I struggle with wanting to change the whole system and give everyone easy, affordable access to care, I know that is too big a burden for one human to carry. I'm confident that every little thing I do contributes to the bigger picture and so here I offer some tips for spreading awareness and challenging stigma: 

  • watch your language, learn the proper words for describing mental illness, talking about suicide, etc. 
  • knowledge is power, read and learn about mental health and mental illness, watch and read people's stories online 
  • if you sense stigma towards mental illness in a conversation with someone, online, or anywhere, try to challenge it in a respectful way
  • social media makes it so easy to share stories, articles, videos, links and resources on mental health, so do it! 
  • help raise funds for a local mental health charity or hospital by hosting a garage sale, bake sale, car wash, pizza day, jeans day on friday at your work, a percentage of sales at your business, you get the idea! 
  • write a letter to your local MPP about how mental illness affects you or your family and why things need to change
  • take care of yourself, do what you can every day to better your mind and become resilient to stress and daily challenges 
  • if you notice a friend, coworker, or family member is struggling, reach out and let them know you are there 
I hope this helps in some way. I wish you an amazing week and hope you learn something new and take action! We're all in this together and we're stronger together so let's fight this thing! I'll never give up. 

If I missed anything or you have more helpful suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below! 


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