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  • Photograph by Robert Snache- Spirithands.net

Faces of Mental Illness

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Upstream is so pleased to see Jack Saddleback, a member of our Saskatoon community, selected for the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health "Faces of Mental Illness" campaign.

As we strive for a healthy society, where everyone can enjoy full physical, social, and mental well-being, it is vital that we consider the factors that influence our mental health. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that these factors include "life experiences, workplace or other environments, and the social and economic conditions that shape our lives."

Sound familiar? Yep, we're talking about the social determinants of health.  Read on for Jack's story and more information about the campaign. 

"The 'faces' are individuals who have lived experience or who have experience with mental illness and are coming out publicly to talk about and to destigmatize mental illness and mental health issues," Saddleback explained.

"I'm going out there to talk about the fact that everyone has a mental health and we need to talk about it. It doesn't necessarily mean everyone has a mental illness but everyone has a mental health."

"As a 'face' I share my story of my lived experience as a young person as well as my experience right now with a sibling who is living with some mental illness. I'm going out there to talk about the fact that everyone has a mental health and we need to talk about it. It doesn't necessarily mean everyone has a mental illness but everyone has a mental health."

Saddleback is known around the province as the vice president of student affairs with the U of S Students' Union and for his activism but he was not always so comfortable in the spotlight.

"My parents were trying to get me as much help as they could but it was very costly and time consuming because we physically had to leave my community and drive about a half an hour into the next town for me to see my psychiatrist every month or so."

"I was diagnosed with severe depression after a suicide attempt around the age 14 or 15," he said adding that as a Cree, two-spirited, transgender person living on his reserve in Alberta, access to help was difficult.

"My parents were trying to get me as much help as they could but it was very costly and time consuming because we physically had to leave my community and drive about a half an hour into the next town for me to see my psychiatrist every month or so."

Saddleback said on top of that travel his parents drove him weekly to a queer youth group in Edmonton to talk with other people about gender and sexual diversity issues.

"My own identity can create a lot of isolation because I didn't see anyone like me out there you know being, I'm Cree, I'm two-spirit, I'm transgender, anywhere in media I don't see anyone like me," he said.

"There was a lot of environmental factors that contributed greatly to my depression that being there was stigma, there was discrimination, there was bullying in schools."

Saddleback said the systemic problems that forced him into a gender binary contributed greatly to his self esteem issues, depression, and eventual suicide attempt.

"Through the system as well where I would have to identify as a female because I happened to be born in a female body I was being pressured," he said.

"We need to start create systemic change to acknowledge people of different gender identities and to have these services and these understandings of what it means to be trans* in this world reflected in the way that we offer support."

"We need to start create systemic change to acknowledge people of different gender identities and to have these services and these understandings of what it means to be trans* in this world reflected in the way that we offer support."

As Saddleback got older and fully transitioned he has worked to sustain his mental health. He also said many of his struggles growing up motivate him to continue to be an advocate and a leader.

"Growing up I reflect on those cards that are stacked against me, being a First Nations youth and being a trans* youth as well, the statistics are very high in suicide attempts and suicides in general," he said.

"For the national average of First Nation youth suicides, I believe it's about six times higher than the national average. Statistics that are out there also say that over half of the trans* youth population attempt suicide."

"Growing up I reflect on those cards that are stacked against me, being a First Nations youth and being a trans* youth as well, the statistics are very high in suicide attempts and suicides in general"

To read the rest of this article, Kelly Malone, "Saskatoon youth leader face of national mental health campaign," CJME, July 23, 2014, click here.

For more information about the campaign, visit the CAMIMH website

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