#RaiseYourWiseHand: Destigmatizing Mental Illness

Wise Women Canada was started by psychotherapist Lisa Brookman and educator Elizabeth Wiener. It focuses on women’s issues – particularly women’s mental health.

They are currently promoting the movement #RaiseYourWiseHand around World Mental Health day on October 10th. By using the hashtag, they’re hoping we can help strip mental illness of the stigma that lingers on. We caught up with Liz and Lisa this week.

SDTC: Walk us through a typical day in your life:

Liz: I always start my day with coffee. I actually can’t function without it! Once I’m caffeinated, I head to the gym or a hot yoga class. I love the endorphin high I get from exercise, and I rarely miss a day. I learned a long time ago that a good sweat is essential for both my physical and mental health. From there, I head home to shower and prepare for some time at my desk where I’ll work on the blog and the materials I need for the clients I’ll see later in the day. Given that I work most late afternoons and evenings, I always set aside time to get dinner together during the afternoon so that I don’t have to worry about it when I get home. After picking up my three teenagers from school, I head to work as a strategic tutor, helping elementary and high school students with organizational and study skills and reading strategies. Night-time is when I decompress, spending time with my kids, art journaling or binging on a Netflix series with my husband. My days are busy and full, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have you had your own issues with mental health – or has someone close to you? 

Liz: I was diagnosed with depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was twenty-four, but I believe that I’ve struggled with my mental health since I was a child. Finally having a diagnosis was liberating. It meant I could, at last, get the help I desperately needed, and begin my road to recovery. That said, it was only last year, at the age of forty-three that I finally went public with my mental health story. Admitting that I struggle with mental illness was daunting at first. I was afraid I might feel exposed; that people would look at me differently. I was concerned that my professional reputation would be compromised and that I might lose the respect from my community and family. But in the end, all of my fears proved completely unfounded. Rather than disrespect or contempt, I’ve felt only love, support and gratitude.

Lisa: Ever since I could remember, I found myself drawn to helping and understanding others. I am a nurturer by nature, so it was almost instinctual for me to immerse myself in the helping profession. Over the years, I’ve worked with a wide range people with varying issues. Each client’s story is different and they inspire me to move forward in my private practice. Accompanying my clients on their journey of growth and evolution is truly an honour and so rewarding. I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

Why was it important to promote #RaiseYourWiseHand? 

Liz: By coming forward with my story, I’ve learned that there’s strength in vulnerability, and a community of kindred spirits looking to connect, to share and to feel understood. This is why it was important for Lisa and I to launch the #RaiseYourWiseHand campaign. We both feel strongly about starting the conversation about mental health. Talking about it is the first step in normalizing mental illness. And the more we talk about it, the further we get in breaking the stigma.

What was the best piece of advice given to you in relation to your career? 

Liz: As someone who struggles with anxiety, change is difficult for me. I love knowing what to expect; the warm, cozy blanket of routine. I’ve practiced the steps. I know how to get from A to B without too much anguish. And I like to stick to what I know. But as much as a comfort zone is a lovely place, nothing ever grows there. So, the best advice I’ve ever been given is to push out of my comfort zone – to embrace change and ride the wave of discovery and growth that comes from trying something new.

How can we support others who are suffering from mental illness?

Lisa: If you have a friend or family member suffering from mental health issues – be patient. Although we wish they would just “snap out of it” and stop feeling sorry for themselves, it’s important to remember that depression is an illness, not sadness or self-pity. Let them know that although you may not understand exactly how they feel, you certainly will do your best to emphasize and attempt to understand where they are coming from. Make a conscious effort to be open, non judgmental and supportive. Accompanying someone through their darkest moments can be challenging and even overwhelming, but your support can be crucial to their recovery.

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