As part of Bell Let’s Talk Day, you shared information about Relief, the organization you chair. Could you tell us a bit more about its mission and practices?
“I started to get involved in mental health 14 years ago, so it’s been a while. But, at that time, I was just starting to think that there might be a connection. Then Guy Latraverse, who was Chairman of the Board at Relief, asked me to join the board of directors, and (laugh) I began to realize that I might have mental health issues!
Gradually, as it began to sink in, I started to see that many other entrepreneurs and co-workers were suffering from issues that they couldn’t name.
Little by little, I started to make the connection. Seven or eight years ago, I realized that money wasn’t the problem facing entrepreneurs. Sure, it’s a problem in the beginning, but entrepreneurs are quickly unable to cope because they weren’t taught how to manage life’s natural ups and downs. If you try to pretend that mental health problems and issues don’t exist in a company, you’re just creating a lie that grows.
It feeds narcissistic personalities and encourages them to hide their issues, which can sink companies more than money problems.
Joining Relief essentially helped me understand my own mental health, because you can’t just take a pill and feel better. If you don’t take charge of your mental health, nothing will work. It’s a shared responsibility. No doctor or psychologist can heal you on their own. You have to help them do it, and you need tools for that. Relief provides the tools you need to understand how to talk about what you’re going through, understand the roles doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists play… The ways in which they can help if you tell them how… That’s where Relief is most helpful. We have specialized programs for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and self-esteem, as well as corporate programs to help people maintain good mental health. Relief helps approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people a year through its services and trains more than 100 other community organizations so that they have tools and services in their networks.”
Taking the first step toward getting help is often the most difficult part. What’s your best advice for overcoming that obstacle when you need mental health support?
“Don’t wait until you hit a wall before seeking help for your mental health. Regardless of whether you’re living with anxiety, depression or something else, you can improve your quality of life by making it a reflex to seek help before then.
For me, it’s about not hitting a wall because it makes you feel like you’re alone, (laugh) but that isn’t the case at all.
In most cases, when I give a talk and ask people to raise their hand if they’re living with a mental health issue, almost everyone raises their hand when we explain what that means. They realize that plenty of people are going through the same thing, regardless of the community. You really aren’t as isolated as you think, and when you talk about your issues, you realize that it normalizes them and that you’re not only one experiencing them.”
On a lighter note, could you tell us about a moment you were once embarrassed about but are proud to talk about now?
“Oh, boy, there are plenty! A moment I was embarrassed about but am proud to talk about now… The truth is that for much of my life, I was embarrassed on a daily basis to stand up in front of people, speak in public or say anything about myself. It made me nauseous.
To be able to do what I do today—coach others, give talks, all of it—would have been impossible just 10 years ago.
Back then, I felt alone, humiliated and self-conscious all the time. At every meeting, I felt like I’d said the wrong thing and that others were going to see me differently. That was true for a large chunk of my life, not just during one particular time.”
If you could wish for anything the coming year, what would it be?
“I’d wish for others to realize that they don’t have to live the life that society imposes on them.
We live with so much nonsense these days, which was created by marketing firms and governments acting more out of self-interest than for society, and we’re convinced that it’s how we have to live. If we could truly live the lives we want rather than the ones that others want for us, I think we could do so much more and be much happier. That’s what I wish for everyone.”
Communications – Centech
Mélina Cyr St-André