The first time I was exposed to a counsellor or social worker was when I was 16 and in the hospital recovering from a very serious car accident. It was a head on collision on the highway and resulted in the passing of two individuals. While recovering in the hospital with a myriad of injuries, I developed a blood clot and pneumonia. That was the first time that I cried or expressed any emotion since the accident that had occurred nearly ten days prior.
There was concern expressed about my mental health and so a series of social workers began to visit me, with little to no introduction as to why, or what their role was. I had never met a social worker before this, nor had any insight as to what they did as a profession being from a very small town in BC.
I did not connect with the first two of them as they asked me about my mood, my feelings, and even my connection to god. I was confused by what they wanted as I was being seen by multiple doctors a day for my injuries and assumed this was just another part of the process.
Finally, a third social worker visited me and the first thing he said was, ‘wow you’re a big guy, you must play football?’ I answered that I played rugby as there was not a football program where I grew up. From there he spoke about working with the Simon Fraser University varsity rugby and football programs with regard to concussions and the connection was easy and flowed well from there. He would go on to share with me that the nursing staff saw me cry and was concerned about low mood and potential suicidality. I shared with him that I was just frustrated that it seemed I was not getting better and only having more complications. He understood and said that he was there if I wished to talk, but that there was no reason for him to see me unless I wished to. I was in the hospital for 3 weeks total and off school for another 3.
From there, I became more interested in mental health, taking psychology courses as electives in my undergrad and then going on to work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside doing street outreach work with homeless populations that were experiencing high levels of addiction and mental health issues.
I knew then that I wished to do more and so I went back to school to achieve my Masters in Social Work from the University of Calgary. I completed practica working in a general counselling agency as well as working with the health authority, predominantly seeing women who were experiencing breast and ovarian cancer.
My work with these women would be foundational to my growth as a therapist. I quickly came to understand that even though I did not have breasts or ovaries, nor a cancer diagnosis, that I could still empathize and connect with my clients on an emotional level. I knew what it was like to experience, fear, anxiety, shame, etc.
My first job post graduation was working with male victims of domestic abuse, coordinating a provincially funded program in Calgary. This opportunity allowed me to really find my calling; working with men and their mental health. During my three years in this program, I was recognized with 2 different awards and spoke at numerous conferences in Canada and even in the US.
I then went on to work for Alberta Health Services as a mental health therapist where I worked with individuals ranging in age from 8 to 80 and presenting with mental health concerns from feeling anxious to people hearing voices urging them to harm others. This was my true next step of education and solidified my feeling that I was in the right career.
I arrived in Toronto in November of 2017 and opened my own practice in February or 2018. Since then, I have seen my practice thrive and the most exciting part is that the majority of my caseload is male. It is so encouraging to see men reaching out to talk about their struggles and experiences in hopes to create a better life for themselves and to address their mental health in a positive way.
I also am part of a monthly event put on by a nonprofit named Next Gen Men where individuals gather to create brave space and for men to have conversations that they may not traditionally be having. We continue to have great attendees, presenters, and engaging discussions that leave everyone feeling exhilarated and excited to share with others in their lives. We are very lucky to have people of all genders and orientations attend these events, speaking to the safety of the space that we have been able to create.
I have been personally impacted by mental health in my own experiences of stress and distress at points in my life, as well as loved ones experiencing their own mental health challenges. My single biggest learning in this field has been that mental health struggles and experiencing distress is far less based on genetic makeup and significantly impacted by our personal environment. When someone is faced with an unhealthy or unsupportive environment in their lives, it can take a tremendous toll on their mental wellness and can lead to increased risk of developing a mental illness or disorder if not addressed. While this is not always true, many that I have met/worked with that have had mental health struggles have also had some levels of tumultuous ness/distress in their living environment.
Family members and close friends of mine have had their own battles with their mental wellness and I have experienced times in my own life of low mood or increased anxiousness. Often these have been as a result of stressors in my life and I have also been lucky enough to have a strong support network and learning to identify when I need to reach out or when a change would be necessary or helpful.
I am now lucky enough to have people seek me out to be a part of their journey toward becoming mentally healthy and enjoying mental wellness, however that looks for them. It is both humbling and exciting to be a part of this work and to see the positive outcomes and growth of my clients as they create the life/relationships that they desire.
Mental health and wellness is part of a continuum and it can shift from one day to the next. However, learning what your own needs are and developing the skills to install them into your life and not feel guilty about that, is truly at the root of therapy. Because these are skills, it means that we can all learn them and change the way we are living. I encourage everyone to try seeing a therapist once in their life, if only to have an understanding of the process and to be able to normalize mental health therapy and mental illness for others. Mental health is health and we all deserve to be healthy.