Lucette Westley, who is working at SFU as a Disability Management Consultant, courageously shared her experience with mental illness. We hope her story sheds light on the stigma that still exists, and helps all of us do what we can to eliminate it. We also hope it encourages those who are struggling to seek help.
My name is Lucette and I am currently working part time as a Disability Management Consultant here at SFU, as well as a Trainer and Consultant for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). This is my story about living and thriving with depression and anxiety.
I worked as a Manager and Director in disability claims offices with over 200 staff during my 42 year career and then retired from full time work to become a Trainer in workplace mental health for the CMHA. Working for CMHA is my passion work, and the reason it became so, is my own experience with mental illness.
During my career I saw first-hand how mental illness impacted on those who were unable to continue to work because they could no longer do the tasks required in their job. A lot of things happen that make life even more difficult. You suddenly lose most of your support systems. You no longer have a daily routine and no reason to get out of bed. You often lose touch with your friends at work, or are too embarrassed to contact them, or too worried that they now have to pick up your work on top of their own. There can be a drop in your income. Your illness might mean you’ve lost some abilities, and there’s the constant fear of never getting better. Sometimes the desire to self -medicate with alcohol or drugs can seem like the only option.
Even though I worked for years with claimants experiencing mental health disabilities, when I myself spiraled down into a very dark period of depression and anxiety, I did not know what to do or how to take care of myself. I felt that this was just a longer than usual “mood swing” and I would be able to snap out of it. I didn’t want to admit even to myself that I had a mental illness. I refused my doctor’s offer of medication for over a year. I ignored my husband’s suggestions that this was not normal and I needed help. And I refused to admit that I could not do my job. I stayed at work every day, but in reality did very little but hide in my office and worry over every task I finally managed to accomplish. I had trouble eating, cried, got angry, panicked, and finally hit a wall where I had to admit that I needed help.
My experience with depression and anxiety could have been so different had I not felt stigmatized and believed it would show weakness to admit I was struggling and needed help. Like so many others, I was sure I could bounce back on my own, but I was wrong. I needed treatment to get better. I was one of the lucky ones. I recovered very quickly. But I waited much too long to take action and struggled needlessly for over a year.
I now actively promote awareness, early intervention, self help activities, and appropriate treatment so others don’t go through what I did.
Only when I participated in a Canadian Mental Health Association workshop did I really understand what stigma was and how destructive it could be. I shared my story at that first workshop and saw how powerful a story can be in opening dialogue and increasing awareness and understanding around mental health.
Although we’re making progress to address stigma, we still have a long way to go. I continue to tell my story whenever I have the opportunity to help others understand how important it is to recognize the signs and take appropriate action including asking for help.