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If You Ask Me


By Olivia Heffernan, NYAC Peer Facilitator

I don’t know about you, but when I disclose that I have mental illness to people that aren’t in the mental health field, I receive a few different reactions. Granted, most people keep their words neutral, but their faces and attitudes give it away.

  1. Fear – The “Umm… what have I gotten myself in to by starting this conversation?” face. Generally noticed by shifting eyes back and forth and an end to that part of the discussion.
  2. Disgust – The “Is it contagious?” face. Used with a curl of the lip, raising of an eyebrow, and usually some sort of offensive comment.
  3. Pity – The “Oh, you poor thing” face. Usually accompanied by a tilt of the head and a lot of nodding.

Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t get positive reactions or even the ‘non-reactions’, but the ones listed above often stand out. It’s 2015. Don’t be scared or disgusted because I have a mental illness.

I’ll end that rant before it starts. What I want to talk about today is the pity reaction. The people who give this reaction are telling me that they feel bad for me. They perceive mental illness as a struggle; a burden that I must deal with in my journey through life. They may think about the graphic, stereotypical and often incorrect depictions of youth mental illness that are common in the media.

We don’t need your pity.

While mental illness has a huge impact on peoples’ lives and the way they must live them, having a mental illness is not always a negative thing. Having an anxiety disorder can definitely make sending an email more difficult and time-consuming (“What if I say the wrong thing/misspell a word/etc.?”) but it also creates an amazing editor and wordsmith out of a person. Depression can cause me not to laugh for days but when I finally do, I laugh longer and harder. And I appreciate every moment of that joy, knowing that it may not always be there. Mental illness can cause someone to struggle with getting out of bed each day, but those who know and live through these struggles can turn out to be the friends who support you no matter what; the ones who truly ‘get’ you.

Mental illness is not the life sentence that society can make it out to be.

Workman Arts and Rendezvous with Madness, in collaboration with CAMH’s National Youth Advisory Committee (NYAC), part of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth and Family Mental Health, are changing the conversation. If You Ask Me is an exciting new omnibus (a compilation of individual stories tied together) documentary movie that will feature people aged 13 to 30 creatively expressing their own vital experiences with mental health. The film will weave together personal perspectives with the goal of getting Canadians to think differently about mental illness. Consisting of a compilation of personal narratives expressed in any video format you wish – drama, diary, animation, music video, etc. If You Ask Me will push the conventional boundaries of the mental health and recovery conversations by igniting a whole new dialogue. We want to show the world that mental illnesses aren’t a life sentence; nor are they the flaws in character that many think they are. If You Ask Me is a film that will show young people with mental illnesses who embrace their mental health.

Let’s show the world the brighter side of mental illness.

For more information, check out

If You Ask Me promotional poster (1)

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Surely mental “health” professionals who see lots of mentally ill patients must have an inkling that you can not cure mental illnesses by denying they exist. I keep hoping the many caring professionals I have met, quickly ask the government to fund scientific research to identify the microbes that infect brains and cause schizophrenia, depression , anxiety, likely Alzheimer’
    disease and the plethora of other brain diseases.

    October 5, 2015

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