This story is part of OUR VOICE MATTERS, a collaborative project created by CAMH’s Youth Engagement Initiative and HealthyDebate.ca.
“People need to recognize that mental illness presents differently in people. Just because you’re doing well in school. Because you are able to hold down a job, doesn’t mean you aren’t seriously struggling.”
Em (uses pronoun they/them) has been working as a youth advisor at CAMH for a little over a year, but has been involved in the mental health system since they were 11 years old. Em struggled to find an accurate diagnosis, medication and treatment within the system.
They felt clinicians failed to ask the right questions and lacked an understanding of trauma-informed care. This limited Em from getting the help they needed.
It took 15 years of different therapists, psychiatrists, inaccurate diagnoses, medications and treatments for Em to get the accurate diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.
“What took 15 years could have taken 5 minutes if only someone had asked me the right questions.”
This unjustified and undeniably lengthy process has been a strong motivator for Em to get involved in reforming mental health systems as a youth advisor.
“Clinicians need to remember that their patients are people. Don’t treat us like a diagnostic label. Treat us like we’re human and like we have value… That’s basic humanity, and that gets lost somewhere in the mental health system.”
“You forget the people you are talking to have rich histories. They are experts of their own experiences and are more than what you see on this piece of paper. You are there to help them on their journey, but they are the captain of their own ship.”
With Em’s personal experience, as well as an undergraduate degree in Mental Health Studies and Health Policy and their current enrolment in the Masters of Teaching program at the University of Toronto, they offer a valuable perspective in developing systems with clinicians and decision-makers at CAMH.
Em is a member of CAMH’s Youth Advisory Group and has represented the youth voice, as well as the queer youth voice, on a number of key projects. Em is the lead youth advisor on WISH List, a research project examining the perspectives of youth, caregivers, and service providing agencies. The goal is to understand the characteristics of preferred youth mental health services for a model of care that integrates youth services. They have also supported an awareness campaign about young carers and the development of multiple educational resources.
Em plans to become a teacher so they can ensure young children have an understanding of consent.
“It’s so easy to teach consent. I am so passionate about becoming a teacher and making sure consent is taught in school. And I know it will be, because I will be there, fighting for it.”