Rachel Beazley is one of five Canadians chosen for the 15th annual Faces of Mental Illness campaign, launched in conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 1-7). After diagnoses of OCD, Tourette Syndrome, Post-Concussion Syndrome, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD and depression, Rachel began advocacy work at her high school, making presentations to students and staff. She has since continued her work at the University of Winnipeg and has expanded her platform to Instagram and her personal blog. Rachel has also published a book about her experiences.
We chatted with Rachel by phone last week.
SDTC: In your research surrounding mental health, what surprised you the most?
RB: The fact that 3 in 5 children in Canada who need mental health treatment do not receive it. I was a child with mental illness. I was seven years old and scared for my brain health, and embarrassed by it. To know there’s so many children feeling that embarrassed at a young age about how their brain is doing – that made me upset.
Were you always this comfortable talking about mental health?
I got my fourth concussion from playing basketball in grade 10, and that caused a lot of headaches (I still deal with headaches to this day from that). For about a year, I dealt with some pretty intense isolation. People didn’t know what I was going through. And my mental illness was exacerbated by that.
I was in a lot of pain and I was isolated. I wasn’t keeping up with my normal life. I decided in 2015 to “educate the educated.” I feel that a student’s perspective is very valuable to an educator. We all have difficulties in our lives. I wanted to communicate my story so that they could have some empathy for what I was experiencing.
How can we help friends who may be struggling with a mental illness?
Checking in when you don’t have to check in. My friends are extraordinary in that way. They just check in. I know for some people that unless they reach out, no one is going to check in.
Also, validate what they’re feeling. You may not understand how they’re feeling, but communicate that it’s not something trivial. Don’t minimize their experience.
How can we increase our mental health literacy?
I’m looking at mental health curriculum in schools. There’s something called Project 11, which is put on by the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation. They bring in things like mindfulness, meditation, yoga – basic skills to help people get through day-to-day life in elementary school.
When I was in elementary school, we learned about the Canada food guide and talked about regular exercise. I think mental health should be on the same level as fitness and nutrition. Mental health relates to every single person on this earth.
What’s it like to be you?
My first thought was it’s hard. But then I think, no, life’s hard for everyone. I’m not that different. I live a wonderful life. No matter how hurtful it’s been, I’ve still thrived out of learning and knowing that my mental illness is not who I am. It’s a tool for me to have more empathy for people. Through my suffering and what I’ve been through, I’ve developed a greater capacity to love and understand hardship in other people’s eyes.