Mike Souliere
Mike Souliere
Mike Souliere

“I’m a fighter and I believe we are all fighters.”

So said third-year University of Ottawa communications student Dustin Garron to the crowd at Algonquin’s Is It Just Me? event to represent those who feel voiceless during Canada’s national Mental Health Awareness Week.

Garron was one of  a handful of guest speakers from The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, a foundation that raises money for patient care and research. They took to the  Algonquin Commons Theatre stage on Oct. 8 to discuss drugs, coping methods and bullies.

“I remember being in Grade 7 and going home and wrapping myself in a blanket,” said Garron. “I didn’t know my purpose. Worst of all, I was crying alone.”

Not all the guest speakers shared their stories of anguish, but they did have one thing in common, they all came to the realization that recognition of an issue is the key to unlocking the stigma behind mental illnesses.

“A lot of young people that I’ve worked with have other factors in their lives that are causing traumatic experiences,” said Mike Souliere. “It’s not just one thing – it’s a collection of things.”

Souliere runs the Royal’s early intervention program and has seen his fair share of substance abuse entering his community.

“My daughter’s 13,” said Souliere. “She went to a school dance and all the boys were drinking energy drinks before they went in. Is there use of a substance that starts at 11, 12 or 13 years old?”

Although noting that the reliance of cigarettes among youth groups is going down, Ontario has now become the number one province for opiate use.

“Drugs have become a brand, haven’t they?” Souiliere asked the crowd. “I see kids put on those press-on tattoos now – with the marijuana leaf.”

But what can be done about it?

“Meditation has certainly proved itself,” said Nicole Loreto, a health psychologist and vice president at The Royal Ottawa Hospital. “It good to know that you can calm the senses and the organs and that’s something that helps to control your cortisone levels.”

To encourage good practices, Loreto explained an app that The Royal has developed.

“It basically helps to limit your emotions and does an analysis of what’s bothering you and shows what action plan you should take,” said Loreto. “There is a breathing exercise available for whenever you have a moment of panic and can’t remember the reset button.”

The app, aptly named HealthyMinds, is available for download.

So in the end, is it just me?

“Mental health is more fragile than I really thought,” said Tariq Popal, a psychology student coming in from Carleton. “What the speakers demonstrated is that it is most certainly not just you, and there is a whole community out there who understands what you’re going through.”