Julia Brown, a 21-year-old journalism student at Sheridan College, is sharing her story about her struggles with mental health.
In Grade 6, Brown began self-harming and developed an eating disorder, although no one knew for years because she hid it. “No one was really that aware until I started having a lot of emotional outbursts and I couldn’t cope in everyday life,” she said.
When her parents found out they were very supportive, learning more about mental health and what their daughter was going through, but Brown said she still felt misunderstood. “I kept it all to myself, because I didn’t want people to be like, ‘What is wrong with you?’”
Brown was in therapy for years, but said she wasn’t as open as she should have been; she was in her own bubble where she was comfortable. “When talking about it, I would lie because I didn’t want people to be like, ‘Oh, you need to get help.’”
In Grade 12, she was referred to the Credit Valley Hospital eating disorder recovery program in Mississauga, Ont., and received treatment for six months to help with her recovery. “Everything exploded, and I was like ‘Okay, I guess I have to deal with this now’,” she said. “I was going to die. You’re going to die if you don’t feed your body.”
The program set a strict schedule every day: there were set times for lunch when everyone ate together, and it focused on changing bad habits. Brown said it was the hardest thing she had ever done, but that even though it took a lot of motivation, the program taught her self-worth.
“It was an eating disorder treatment, but it treated everything,” she said. “I was dealing with depression, self-harm, anorexia and crippling anxiety. They all link together, and they really made me find the root of what triggered me, and changed my perspective toward life and myself. And I think when you change your perspective, life kind of becomes new.”
Leaving the program was a challenge in itself because Brown had to continue to apply what she had learned during her six months, but without the immediate support of staff and peers. However, she wanted to change and didn’t want to feel badly any more, and that motivated her.
Brown has since become an advocate for Bell Let’s Talk, the mental health awareness campaign sponsored by media conglomerate BCE Inc., because it has opened up a conversation about mental health and has created a safe community to share experiences and spread awareness.
She’s an advocate for Bell Let’s Talk because it keeps the conversation going. “They’ve helped make it a topic that’s not taboo,” she said. “They’re making it normal because it is, it is so normal, and that’s what people don’t understand.”
When asked what people can do to help, Brown said that educating yourself benefits everyone in your community and in your life–because if you’re not struggling with mental health, chances are, someone in your life is. “It’s becoming in tune with the language you’re using,” she said. “There’s a lot of ignorance, and ignorance is not bliss. Not when it comes to this topic.”
Brown said she wants people to know that you don’t have to suffer alone and that getting help doesn’t mean you’re weak. “It’s a long and hard process, but it’s worth it. I was lucky that I got help when I was young.”
Asked how she deals with negativity in her life, Brown said that she depends less on other people for her happiness. “Now I’m confident enough to say no, I don’t want this in my life. I had to look inward and learn to respect myself,” she said. “I don’t have time or room in my life for negative people, and I think that’s okay. People shouldn’t feel bad for not wanting certain things or certain people in their life.”
For more stories about people facing mental health issues, check out our Stopping the Stigma video series.