For Connor MacNeil, open discussions about mental health need to happen to end stigma related to care.
Connor benefited from care at Grand River Hospital through its child and adolescent mental health unit.
However, stigma around seeking care as well as the judgement of her peers impacted her mental health journey.
Today, Connor is enjoying life as she completes her undergraduate studies at the University of Guelph.
She’s also encouraging patients, families, friends and many others to openly talk about mental health to improve understanding and encourage care.
How did you come to need care for your mental health?
My need for mental health care came after several years of struggling with suicidal ideation and borderline personality disorder. These issues left me unable to maintain coping strategies and with unstable relationships.
It was shortly after my father passed away that things took a turn and I was in need of serious care and was unable to recognize my own risk level.
What difference did that care make for you?
The care provided by Grand River Hospital and specifically the child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry unit was the difference between a healthy life or a disappointing and far too early end.
I found myself in the care of GRH several times. Without fail the nursing staff, psychiatrists and group therapy leaders were there to provide a supportive stabilizing environment.
How did stigma factor into your decision to seek care or any other aspect of your life?
Stigma impacted not only my initial endeavors into mental health care but as my symptoms worsened, I was very resistant to inpatient care.
When I was in the hospital it was a supportive and stigma-free environment, yet when I was released I would come home to a litany of rumors and questions. My peers looked down on my experience and therefore I was more and more reserved about what my illness was actually doing to me and where I had been.
If you could eliminate stigma, how would you do it?
Eliminating stigma is a gradual process of making conversations about mental health more socially acceptable. Everyone has mental health needs, regardless of whether they require treatment.
Taking care of yourself and being able to be honest about how things are in your life will make a great difference in the accessibility and comfortability with accessing mental health care.
What advice would you offer for someone who may now be in a similar situation to yours when you were seeking care?
My advice to those who are currently struggling and are in need of care is to reach out to your support system. The more they know, the more they can help.
There are so many times when I felt I couldn’t speak up about what was going on. I soon realized the more your care providers know, the more they can address you as an individual.
Building a support system both within your care provider team and your social circle will be immensely beneficial to your continued improvements. Recognizing the wealth of knowledge and assistance your support network can give you is a great turning point in the recovery process.
What are you excited about in your life now?
My life currently is a whirlwind that I would never have expected. I am going into my fourth year at the University of Guelph in an Honors BA in Sociology with a goal of working with at-risk youth. I started university with a dream of being just another "normal" student on campus but I realized the more I embraced my individuality, the more I thrived.