Today is International Women’s Day. In honour of the occasion, I thought that I would talk about a few people who I really admire for their work in mental health advocacy. There are a few celebrities in this list but I also tried to include some people who I have either met in my blogging work or who I just really appreciate for their work, skills and dedication to the cause. There are so many more women who I could have included – I could have made this list 100 people long or more – but I decided to cap it at ten. Comment below and tell me about the women that you admire – they don’t have to be mental health advocates, just any person who identifies as a women and is super cool.
Clara Hughes is seriously one of my heroes.Clara is a Canadian cyclist and speed-skater, as well as an Olympic champion. But most importantly to me – she is a very prominent mental health advocate living with depression who has done a great job in reducing stigma across Canada. She is super open and honest about her experiences and her symptoms. I follow her on social media and she often lets her thousands of followers catch glimpses of how her depression impacts her daily life. Clara is one of the spokespeople for Bell Let’s Talk, an initiative that has raised millions of money that funds important work being done across the country in our communities. She has published a memoir, which I have been meaning to read, and also been the subject of a documentary. The coolest thing she has done? Biking across Canada to raise awareness and funds for mental health. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next!
Katie Dalebout is an American blogger, podcast host, author, yoga teacher, wellness coach and passionate about journaling. I recently discovered her work and fell in love! I have already learned so much about life and picked up so many nuggets of wisdom from her content. While her main focus in life isn’t mental health advocacy, Katie is completely open about her eating disorder that she had in her early twenties, and mentors young girls to help them overcome their own disorders through journaling and other techniques. She is a big advocate for self-care, wellness & healthy living and treating your body with respect and love. All things that are conducive to positive mental health!
A little over a month ago, I went to a women’s support group at the Malvern Family Resource Centre in Scarborough. The guest speaker was Stacy-Ann Buchanan, an actress and producer who spoke in great detail about her personal struggles with anxiety and depression, and her journey to becoming a mental health advocate. I was deeply moved by her story and her passion. I decided to look more into her work and follow her on social media. She directed a documentary called The Blind Stigma, which is about mental health in the Black community. She was selected as one of 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada 2015 and received the 2015 Young Fem Leader award as well. Most recently, she was featured in the CBC Black History Month feature called HERstory in Black, which “shares the experiences of 150 women who excel in their field, who push for greater diversity and who help build vibrant communities.” I bought a DVD copy of her documentary and plan on writing a review in the next few weeks – stay tuned!
I’m going to be writing
Troian Bellisario is one of my favourite people, mostly because I am obsessed with Pretty Little Liars. But she has also been outspoken about her eating disorder in several media interviews, using her celebrity status to draw attention to mental illness. In a recent video in November 2016, she didn’t hold anything back. “With anorexia, a lot of it is presenting a front of ‘everything is okay’ as you’re slowly killing yourself. Gone were the days when I was just a happy, carefree kid who was running around, and suddenly I felt this inability to interact with people and to nourish myself.” She is a huge advocate for early detection, diagnosis and treatment. Most recently, she campaigned for Hillary Clinton because she respected the presidential candidate’s advocacy for mental health. No matter your views on American politics and Hillary Clinton, we can all agree with Troian that we need more resources and funding for mental healthcare. If you ARE interested in American politics, I wrote a blog post a few months ago about my thoughts on Donald Trump and how I think he will impact the mental health of Americans. Check it out!
I recently discovered the work of Dior Vargas , a queer Latina feminist and mental health activist. I was super impressed by her accomplishments, passion and knowledge. She has received numerous awards for her achievements, which you can learn about on her website (linked above). You should definitely follow her Twitter feed for a curation of intelligent, interesting and intersectional content that has definitely opened my eyes so far. Dior is the creator of the People of Color and Mental Illness Photo Project, a “response to the invisibility of people of color in the media representation of mental illness.” In Dior’s own words: “There are tons of articles that list people with depression and other mental illnesses but you rarely see someone who looks like you. We need to change the way this is represented.” I perused through the dozens of photos and was struck by the honesty and bravery of so many people who associated their faces with mental illness. It also really drove home the point that mental illness affects EVERYONE. Not to make it too much about me, but I do have to say that as a mental health advocate with my own blog about mental illness, my goal really should be and is to tell diverse stories, not just mine, and definitely not just the stories of people who look like me (i.e white people). So if you have a story to tell and want to be a guest contributor, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I saw Jill Andrew speak at a panel discussion in the fall on mental health in the LGBTQ community. (There is a blog post about it here!) I was very inspired by her candidness in describing her own experiences with mental illness. I was also very impressed with her work in the body positive community. I firmly believe that our relationships with our bodies have a profound impact on our mental health. I immediately followed Jill on Twitter, and have been keeping up with her feed ever since. Jill is one of the co-founders of Body Confidence Canada, which advocates for “equitable and inclusive images, messages, practices and policies supporting body diversity.” and “to create an enhanced socio-cultural environment where all bodies can not only survive but thrive without fear of discrimination.” The organization’s Body Confidence Awards highlights people in the community who are making a difference in disrupting how society views and treats the body. Jill is also one of the co-founders of Fat in the City a fashion & lifestyle blog for “stylish women with curves.” Busy and super cool woman!
Michelle Yan is the founder of the “This Is Who I Am Project“, who organized the panel discussion I mentioned above about mental illness in the LGBTQ community. I interviewed Michelle in December and she gave some really interesting insights about her goals for the project. I am super proud of her work so far in raising awareness about mental health. In the interview, she stated one of the reasons behind the need for more awareness and for the project: “As a marginalized group LGBTQ people still experience discrimination and stigma. This discrimination can have a negative effect throughout life. Through the “coming out process”, many LGBTQ people sometimes suppress who they really are, hide their orientation and change their behaviour or appearance for fear of homophobia, bullying or violence. When you tack on unsupportive family situations, culture or religion, this has a severe negative impact on mental health.”
I’m hoping that Michelle will be planning more events soon! This powerful woman has a strong voice and it deserves to be heard by many.
How could I leave out Emma Stone, the recent winner of the Oscar for Best Actress? While she isn’t super active in the mental health community, she has been super brave in sharing her experiences with anxiety with the public. In a Hollywood Reporter article at the end of January, Emma opened up and share personal details about her thoughts and feelings. She talks about debilitating panic attacks as a child and growing up and her fear of fame. “I started to feel overwhelmed by the energy of Hollywood,” she said. “Losing my anonymity after Easy A, it was like being 7 years old all over again,” she says. “It terrified me.” Emma Stone, in her own quiet way, is making a difference by normalizing panic attacks and anxiety just by speaking about it casually in interviews. You go, girl!
Sakinah (The Muslim Hippie)
I recently “met” Sakinah over the internet and just had to include her in this list.She founded a blog called The Muslim Hippie, which discusses the intersection of race, culture and mental illness. Last week, I featured her as a guest contributor on the blog and she wrote about being a parent with mental illness. I am seriously so proud of this woman for tackling her own mental illness head-on in a public forum and expressing herself so eloquently. Like me, she also has bipolar disorder, as well as other mental health issues like anxiety and ADHD. On her own blog, she has written about everything from dealing with migraines, colouring apps, being suical, experiencing mania and delusions and more. I am confident that more people will discover her blog soon enough – it’s chock-full of interesting tidbits about mental illness through the lens of a Muslim women’s perspective. I’m sure she’s already helped many people and will continue to do so.
Like me, Demi Lovato also has bipolar disorder.She has also struggled with addiction and other mental health issues. It’s been seriously refreshing for me over the past few years to see someone be so public with their diagnosis, particularly as I grapple with coming to terms with mine. It feels good to be represented in pop culture and to see that someone so successful can thrive despite the illness. Demi Lovato is amazing because she is starting conversations and doing her part to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness. One thing that she said really struck me: “Living well with bipolar disorder is possible, but it takes patience, it takes work and it is an ongoing process. The reality is that you’re not a car that goes into a shop and gets fixed right away. Everyone’s process and treatment plan may be different.”
She recently partnered with several organizations to start the Be Vocal Speak Up for Mental Health initiative, which aims to “empower adults living with mental health conditions to speak up when talking with their professional support team and to speak up as a community to advance mental health in America.” She produced a documentary that was recently released and which you can watch here. It follows the story of three people with mental illness. I have yet to watch it, but I definitely will soon and there will be a blog post about it. I am so thankful for Demi’s advocacy and so proud that she will be honoured soon for her work.
So that’s it for my list of inspiring women! Again, please share with me in the comments your thoughts on a woman or several women that inspire you! I’d love to hear all about them.