Focusing on hope: the faces of mental illness

Seeing the first throught the trees; photo by Michael Fournier

Photo by Michael Fournier, MightyWrite

Hope has been a clear message of the 2016 Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign (#‪MIAW2016).

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, marked MIAW with the following statement (courtesy of CNW):

“Recovery journeys are built on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be fostered by many types of services, supports, and treatments. That is why each individual and every organization has a role to play in supporting people through their journey of recovery.

The Faces of the MIAW campaign are the ultimate ambassadors of recovery as they courageously lend their faces and share their personal recovery stories with everyone in Canada—illustrating there is no standard path to recovery.

The 2016 Faces, Andrea Paquette, Dexter Nyuurnibe, Stéphanie Fontaine and the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s own Samuel Breau—and all those who have come before them—are living proof that recovery is not only possible, it is probable provided timely treatment, services and supports are accessible.”

You can view the MIAW 2016 Faces of Mental Illness videos on YouTube or at

It’s true. There is hope. People do get help. And they do get better.

Here is one such story from my colleague and friend Mandi J. Buckner of  Mandi J. Buckner Consulting.

I have journeyed through depression – and the trip wasn’t easy.

Yet here I am today – an accomplished return to work consultant specializing in mental health with experience in employment protocols, career development,  job preparedness strategies and workplace mental health peer support.

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

But there’s more to this story.

When my 26-year career in the financial services industry tanked after my diagnosis of depression, I thought it was all my fault. The constant barrage of questions around my ability to recover and do my job depleted my energy as well as my confidence.

As I started to emerge from the depression, I realized that my recovery would be dependent on a successful return to work where I was supported for who I was – not who I had been. What I encountered instead was being told that it was best if I didn’t acknowledge what I had experienced; that I should hide my illness, put on a strong face and carry on like nothing in my life had changed. I remember thinking, “Is this what the rest of my life at work is going to look like?”

Colleagues, family, and friends could not understand how I couldn’t just bear through it for the next few years until retirement.

At the time, I made choices out of fear and out of feeling helpless. Yet in retrospect, I actually chose to recover my way. I wanted my journey to wellness to be one of authenticity, truth, and respect.

A few years after my early “retirement” I became certified as a Mental Health Peer Coach in Georgia State’s Department of Human Resources. My goals? To provide respect and a different voice for those who were experiencing what I went through. To help others get through the endless fight against the stigma of having a mental illness and focus instead on returning to work successfully with support and accommodation.

I began to understand that there was a huge gap in how the return to work was being handled for people who were working really hard to get well and wanted to be at work during their recovery.

I wanted to provide services to fill that gap and draw on my diverse education to do this work, gaining more confidence with each step: Masters in Healing Arts; Career Consultant; Personality Dimensions Accreditation; Leadership and Coaching Accreditations; Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention Training; the list goes on.

I also became involved with the Volunteer Ontario Recovery group where, as a volunteer, I was connected to training that helped me gain a better perspective of what had happened to me. Mindfulness training was another game changer for me during this time.

The last phase of my recovery was feeling confident to return to work. An opportunity to become an instructor at Sheridan College presented itself. For the first time, during the interview, I disclosed the reason why I had left my long career in the financial sector. I related from a position of power and recovery. I was hired in spite of, or possibly because of, my ability to discuss this topic with confidence.

My time at Sheridan was a turning point for me, as I was able to achieve career success in a way that has been authentic and meaningful. As I ventured out into my own consulting business, I was contracted by Sheridan to develop curriculum for a return to work program for individuals who were off work due to stress leave or mental health issues.

We took the 12-week course and turned it into a Mental Health and Work Program, with 3
4-week courses:

Course 1: Recovery

Course 2: Self-Management

Course 3: Return to Work/Workplace Strategies

Information about the program is available here. The first course, Recovery, is now open for registration and begins on Oct. 31.

I was thrilled that my former employer was paying attention to this issue. I am honoured that my story has helped to inspire that journey and that I am able to be a part of this monumental change in workplaces across Canada.

What I now know:

  • Remaining silent does not support recovery
  • Open, supportive dialogue can make all the difference for a successful return to work when mental health is a factor
  • A supportive workplace can help recovery
  • Recovery from mental illness takes time and accommodation
  • People do recover from mental illness
  • Employees with mental illness can be as competent and productive as before their illness – some even more so!
  • Being mindful of our responses to stressors in life and at work supports ongoing wellness

I have always been searching for that moment when I could feel good about my experience of depression. That it does not define who I am, but it is part of who I am.

That moment has arrived.

I feel empowered to have that experience continue to inform my journey.

Mandi also helped inspire the free resource Working Through It, where people who have experienced mental illness share their stories of how they reclaimed well-being at work, off work and returning to work. Their stories also give hope that can help others persevere through the sometimes challenging work of recovery.

There is hope and help to find answers and support:

Partners for Mental Health seeks to transform the way Canadians think about, act towards and support mental health and people living with a mental illness.

The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness.

Mood Disorders Society of Canada offers support programs to people, and their families, who are living with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for improving the mental health system and changing the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental health issues. Through its unique mandate from Health Canada, the MHCC brings together leaders and organizations from across the country to accelerate these changes.

The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace provides free tools and resources to help employers improve psychological health and safety and support employee success when mental health is a factor.

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