‘Like a mental hell’: Island woman who has battled mental health issues since she was a teenager says conversations improving but still far from going

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When Ellen Taylor started her PODCAST dedicated to depression and mental health back in 2020, she never expected the vast amount of support she got.

The podcast, called Taylored to Heal, began as a pandemic project she did on the side of her regular job as a teacher in Summerside. Soon, Taylor was receiving dozens of messages from people across PEI looking to share their story with her.

“At the time, I felt like there weren’t enough people on Island who were really willing to talk about depression and mental health,” Taylor said.

In 2019, Taylor helped organize a public forum to talk about mental health in her community.

“We had someone from the school teams, the mental health and addictions people and three people who shared their story,” Taylor said.

“After that, there were just so many people sharing their stories with me, that’s kind of what started,” she says.

“Ordinary people can have these struggles too”

Taylor teaches Grade 4 and Grade 5 French Immersion at Greenfield Elementary School in Summerside, making it difficult to continue the podcast regularly, uploading the latest episode of the podcast in December 2020. Despite this, people often still arrive to talk about their mental health struggles.

“I find that people need to see that ordinary people can have these struggles too,” she said.


“I know people who say they never had depression because they don’t want to be stigmatized, whether it’s from their job or their family. »

– Ellen Taylor


“I know when I was going through my own mental health addictions that I had an idea in my head about stereotypes. »

Negative stigmas surrounding mental health is one of the main reasons people don’t feel comfortable talking publicly about the subject, Taylor said.

“People say you just see a psychiatrist, take meds and focus on it, but that’s just not the trip for a lot of people. It’s so complex,” she said.

“I know people who say they never had depression because they don’t want to be stigmatized, whether it’s from their job or their family. »

Ashley Bélanger-Birt is a Provincial Peer Support Officer with the Canadian Mental Health Association.  While it's hard to see people struggle, it's rewarding and helps with my own mental health struggles, she says.  - Contributed
Ashley Bélanger-Birt is a Provincial Peer Support Officer with the Canadian Mental Health Association. While it’s hard to see people struggle, it’s rewarding and helps with my own mental health struggles, she says. – Contributed

the impact on Covid mental health

Since the pandemic began, people have reached out to Taylor a lot more to talk about their struggles.

“People are just kind of getting more mentally ill and staying isolated,” she said.

“For vulnerable people in society, there is a lot on their plate and they are not doing well. »

After talking to many people at appointments in clinics and hospitals, it’s clear some preconceptions about mental health still exist, Taylor said.

“It always feels like people feel stigmatized and I think a lot of that doctors aren’t trained enough for that. They don’t know either. »

The solution is for more people to talk about their struggles, Taylor says.

“It’s not a moral deficiency,” she said. “It’s like any other physical illness, so we need to start talking like that. If more people shared and more people talked that would help.”

Events such as Bell Let’s Talk Day – a digital and social media outreach program designed to break the silence surrounding mental illness and mental health support across Canada – are great examples of ways people can speak up of their struggles safely, Taylor said.

“Any exhibition on mental health that gives people a way to talk about it, I think is good,” she said.

“You never know who you’re going to help and your words could mean so much to someone you’re not even thinking of. »

Bell Let’s Talk Day, marked this year on January 26, was started over 10 years ago by Bell Media. The annual event is the company’s largest commitment to mental health in Canada, Bell is awarding grants of up to $25,000 to Canadians with projects aimed at improving access to mental health care.

Share their stories

The campaign has made it easier for many Canadians to talk about their struggles with mental health, said Ashley Belanger-Birt, provincial peer support coordinator with the IEP Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

“He gave so many people the opportunity to share their stories. I’m a very optimistic person, and I think it’s amazing to give people that platform,” Belanger-Birt said.

Bélanger-Birt became a peer support worker after years of dealing with his own mental health issues.

“I realized that I wanted to use what I went through to help others,” she said.

Each Island support worker with ACSM has an average caseload of 30 people.

“We usually see 300 people a year, but that number has increased,” Belanger-Birt said.

The demographic weight is greatest between ages 19-35, but more older people have started showing up in recent years, she says.

“I feel like with things like Bell Talk, older generations are becoming more comfortable talking about issues that they’ve had the majority of their lives,” she says.

“People realize that the next person yours probably has a mental illness,” she says.

“It’s not more hidden. »

Make improvements

Connie Hardy, a 62-year-old woman from Prince County, PEI, has dealt with depression since she was a teenager. She accepts things have come a long way.

“Being a teenager, he was like mental hell,” Hardy said.

Growing up, no one talked about depression in their community for fear of ridicule, Hardy says.

“It was a really big comeback show then,” she said.


“Here on the Island, it can take up to four months to get help. Five months to get a psychiatrist. The help just isn’t there. There are no advisers, there is no professional help, and Covid hasn’t helped anything.”

-Connie Hardy


“The doors were closed. You didn’t go out on the street and you didn’t talk to your friends, because those times were different.”

Eventually, Hardy was forced to go off-island to get the treatment she needed, a decision she’s very grateful for, she said.

“If I didn’t have the support of the family, I wouldn’t have done it. »

Mental health awareness campaigns have given many people in her age group the courage to come forward and speak out about their own struggles with mental health, Hardy said.

“It’s okay now, you’re not alone, and I think Bell has contributed to that,” she said.

Although things have improved, there is a lot of work to be done in the Island mental health care system, Hardy said.

“Here on the Island, it can take up to four months to get help. Five months to get a psychiatrist,” she said.

“Help just isn’t there. There are no advisers, there is no professional help, and Covid hasn’t helped anything.”

Hardy would like to see young people have easier access to mental health care on the Island and to remember that they are not alone.

“I would like to see kids have a better chance of getting counseling, I think that’s a big reason why you don’t see them showing up as much as they should,” she said.

“Just don’t throw that towel in, talk to your family and get the support you need. »

Bélanger-Birt said it’s important to remember everyone has probably struggled with mental health in some way, and open dialogue is key to ending all the negativity around mental health.

“We’re starting to live in a society that’s more tolerant and more aware of what’s going on around us, and there’s always someone out there who’s going to want to help you out,” she said.

Taylor agrees.

“A lot of healing comes from telling your story. Some people won’t understand and some people will support you no matter what,” Taylor said.

“When you share your truth, a lot of peace comes with that. »

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