Like many people in my generation, I was not given any formal education about mental health and addictions issues. The extent of my education on these areas was probably my D.A.R.E. class in seventh grade, which basically instilled the message that ‘drugs are bad do not do them’ and scared the sh*t out of me rather than educated me to make my own informed decisions. Because of the lack of information provided, I never really understood what addiction was, and the way addiction was portrayed in the media left me feeling largely scared of drugs and the people who abuse them.
My perspective changed vastly when I started volunteering with an organization called Ham or Jam Distributors, which was a group of University students who went to Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown East side every Saturday to share food, hygiene supplies and clothing, and conversation with the people who resided there. This experience resulted in one of my biggest perspective shifts, as I went from feeling fear to feeling compassion. Simply by sharing stories and getting to know these individuals who were labelled as ‘homeless’ and ‘addicts’; allowed me to realize that ‘addicts’ are not their label, they are people with addictions. More importantly, they are people who are struggling, who are in pain, and who are coping with their pain through substance use and various behaviours. The stigma that surrounds addiction, the labelling of addicts as other, as lazy, as weak…needs to stop. When we see addicts as people in pain, we then can develop compassion and can start to see our similarities, rather than our differences.
Since completing my Masters in Counselling Psychology degree in the Spring, I have worked as a youth mental health and substance use counsellor with Vancouver Coastal Health. Although my work is incredibly challenging and at times I feel emotionally drained, incompetent, and helpless, I feel absolutely privileged to do the work I do. The youth I connect with show me that addiction can happen to anyone. I am constantly humbled by their insurmountable courage to expose their authentic (unfiltered, imperfect) selves as they find the strength and tools to overcome their struggles. Each person is unique, powerful, flawed, resilient, worthy. To me, the most challenging aspect of my work is helping my clients develop compassion for themselves, and to let go of the shame they carry because of the stigma and judgements associated with mental illness and addiction.
As myself and many people I love have had personal struggles with mental health, I now try to be an advocate for mental health awareness. I try to be transparent: to walk the walk and practice what I preach. I see my own therapist regularly, as I think that it is important not only to keep my own mental health in check, but to challenge the stigma associated with getting therapeutic help. The more we open up about our struggles, the more mental health becomes a normal part of the conversation, not something to hide or to be ashamed of. My hope is that one day people will be able to say “I’m going to an appointment with a therapist” just as easily and common place as saying, “I have a check-up with my doctor”. Why? Because mental health is health, we all have it, and we need to take care of it and nurture it. As author Johan Hari of Chasing the Scream, puts it: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection. Let’s work together towards a more connected society.
Chelsea Cameron @ email@example.com
Watch Johan Hari’s TedTalk: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWbDl2u_VGI).
If you or someone you know if struggling with mental illness or addiction, please see the following list of resources to help direct you to services. An intake and assessment clinician at one of these services can support you in accessing residential treatment, outpatient support, detox services, counselling and therapeutic support, and further information on support services available.
Vancouver Coastal Health Clinics:
- Adult Mental Health: Access & Assessment Centre(604) 675-3700 - phone lines and clinic open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or visit the Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre, Level 1 East Entrance, 803 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9.
- Older Adult Mental Health: (604) 709-6785 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Addiction Services: 1 (866) 658-1221 - phone lines open Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.
- North Shore: (604) 983-6020 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Pemberton: (604) 698-5861 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Powell River: (604) 485-3300 - phone lines open Monday to Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Squamish: (604) 815-3008 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Sunshine Coast (Gibsons, Sechelt & Pender Harbour): (604) 885-6101 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
- Whistler: (604) 698-6455 - phone lines open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Child and Youth
To access child and youth mental health services in Vancouver, call (604) 675-3895.
Foundry (BC): services and supports for youth (12-24 years) struggling with mental health and substance use.
Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre: Provincial resource that provides mental health and substance use information, resources, peer support to children, youth, and families across BC.
Professionally trained volunteers can provide free, confidential, non-judgmental, emotional support if you are experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
- Vancouver, Richmond, North Shore and Sea to Sky: (604) 872-3111 - phone lines open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Provincial Crisis Centre: 1 (800) SUICIDE - 1 (800) 784-2433 - phone lines open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or visit crisiscentrechat.ca