Like most Canadians, I’ve witnessed the devastating impact that mental illness can have on people and their families. I saw it as an RCMP constable and more recently as a successful entrepreneur. I’ve seen first-hand the damage it causes families when mental illness goes unnoticed and untreated. It’s because I’ve seen this darker side that I’m an advocate for mental health today.
In the RCMP years ago, I witnessed the impact that mental illness had on both the general population and those on the force. At the time, it was much more difficult for people to access the care they needed to get better. What’s more, officers didn’t want to talk about mental illness or addiction because they felt it would make them appear weak or vulnerable. We were expected to be resilient and strong, and so we kept quiet.
A career as an RCMP officer and that of an entrepreneur are similar in that they both require the ability to handle pressure and stress on a daily basis. Both are incredibly dynamic environments in which things are always changing. While the environment is exciting and stimulating, entrepreneurs have to deal with a lot of highs and lows. If they aren’t able to adopt strategies to cope with the stress and pressures of their career and handle those swings, their mental health can suffer. And when mental illness worsens, the results can be disastrous. My 16-year-old nephew was smart, outgoing, and had a very bright future ahead of him. He died by suicide. I never picked up on the fact that he was struggling with his mental health because he never talked to anyone about it. As an RCMP officer, I was trained to look for those indicators. It weighed on me heavily that I hadn’t been able to do so.
I knew something had to change. I saw how that tragedy impacted my sister and our family, and I began to realize that many people and their families were dealing with these same challenges. In many cases, stigma prevented people from seeking the help they needed. We are working to change that. I believe mental health is not hiding as much anymore and people are starting to speak up. We are learning from their stories, but we still have a long way to go.
My wife Sandi Treliving and I are co-chairing the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) ‘150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health’ because we want to play a role in sharing stories of hope and courage. There are so many unsung Canadian heroes making a difference every day in communities across the country, and we want to recognize the difference that they make. These are the teachers, the volunteers, the community leaders, the advocates, and the influencers in your network who are mental health champions.
Since getting involved with CAMH, I have been exposed to an entire community of Canadians who open up to me about their own challenges, personally, in their families, or with someone they love. I believe telling these stories and celebrating the difference makers is a powerful way to continue normalizing the discussion around mental health in this country.
I encourage you to reach out to someone and start talking about mental health. Reach out to friends, family, professionals, or someone you trust and start the conversation.
Whatever you do – whether a constable in the RCMP, a budding entrepreneur, or something else completely – we all need to make an investment in ourselves first. Take a step back from your business, evaluate how the daily stresses may be impacting you, and make an investment into your own mental health.
If you know of someone who inspires others in the mental health space, nominate them at camhdifferencemakers.ca.