myEsprit APP

Teens Develop Mental Health App for Their Peers

With school closures, online learning, and navigating an uncertain future, teenagers in the midst of discovering who they are in the world have been particularly affected by the pandemic. The struggles of their peer group inspired Astha and Sanjana, two grade 12 students at Semiahmoo Secondary School. They have developed, implemented and are promoting a mental health app specifically for teenagers. The development of the app began when they were only in Grade 11, and now they already have 55 users on their platform with a vision to create a helpline for kids with nowhere else to turn.

The Stigma-Free Society had the pleasure of speaking with Sanjana, one of the app’s founders, about the genesis of the myEsprit App and its intended benefits for teenagers.

Designing an app for high school students during a pandemic is quite an achievement. Can you tell me more about how this app came to be?

“In January 2020, I saw a contest through Girl Technovation Challenge, involving the creation of an app and a business plan and pitch to go alongside it. I found this to be a wonderful opportunity to make mental health accessible to youth. I decided to ask Astha for her support in developing the app, as I knew she was the expert when it came to technology. I am grateful that we had the opportunity to work alongside each other, as we combined our experiences and organizational, technological, and business skills to create not only an app but a business and organization to go alongside it.”

Who is this app for and why did you want to create a mental health resource for this group?

Sanjana“The app’s target audience is teenagers. Since we are teenagers ourselves, we have access to contacts like schools, mental health institutes, clubs, and social media avenues to connect with this audience appropriately. We also have a good understanding of the needs of teenagers our age, and their barriers to accessing mental health support. For instance, we were able to include anonymous calling centres and opportunities to connect with support systems, as we know teenagers may not feel comfortable disclosing their name with mental health professionals, for fear of things like social services or being forced to take medications they don’t want. We also sternly believe it is important for people to be able to access self-care tools that permit them to prioritize their mental health and generate happiness. It is important to provide youth these tools at an early age, so they set in and can be used to face the challenges that come with adulthood. Statistics have shown that around 50% of adolescents have reported having a mental health condition and suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers. These statistics give further evidence of how crucial it is for teenagers to have access to tools to support themselves so they can carry them into adulthood, so they can access this information and support at this crucial and vulnerable stage in their lives.”

How is this app different from other mental health apps and what are some of the unique features?

“The myEsprit app’s focus is not simply providing resources and support systems for mental health issues, but also helping users learn to generate happiness and experience daily fulfillment and joy as well. We have made this app free and targeted to teenagers, and have also given youth access to other workshops, events, interviews, and blog posts made through our business and community as well.”

What are the main benefits you want people to receive from using the app?

“MyEsprit is a free app that can be found in various languages. Its main objective is to help people prioritize their happiness and provide them with access to long term resources. Our app offers various features including gratitude journaling, goal journaling, and reflective journaling. The features are offered to help support people in accessing awareness about the beauty their life already contains and form a deep appreciation for it. It also helps develop good habits and long-term goals revolving around things like health and fitness, family, intellectual life, social life, emotional life, character, career, quality of life, love, relationships, finances, and encourages self-reflection. Our mindfulness and breathing exercises help people find a sense of grounding and peace, in a matter of a few minutes, and can be something easily accessed throughout the day. The personal profile provides support systems that align well with the user’s needs including reminders of their favourite music or movies, or activities to do when feeling anxious or stressed out, and can also track mood, water intake, and exercise. Lastly, the app offers information on various mental health issues and specific and general resources to support people. Overall, we hope that the app provides a safe space for people to access a holistic form of mental health support and to prioritize their mental wellbeing and happiness.”

I hear you also want to create a mental health helpline for youth. Can you tell me more about this?

“We are incredibly grateful to be receiving the guidance and support of Daniel To, who is part of the Surrey school board. He has provided us with various networking and promotion opportunities and helped connect us with like-minded organizations. We were also
introducing the idea of developing a Youth helpline and look forward to continued discussions with him to make the idea a reality and receive the training we need to provide that additional support.”

Why does your team feel that mental health is a particularly important topic to address right now?

“Mental health is one of the most important topics to be addressed, and unfortunately is something that still has a lot of stigma. The mental wellbeing of a person affects not only them, but their relationships, their day-to-day practices, their work efforts, and even physical health. It can also affect the economy, the health of citizens, and the wellbeing of the whole community. Being able to give people access to a greater understanding of how their brain works and of mental health issues, including support systems, can help people overcome them, and is extremely vital to foster a happy, healthy, and prosperous community of citizens and global leaders.”

For more information and to download the myEsprit app, visit their webpage HERE.

Moving Your Mind – Exercise and Mental Health

We often think about exercise as a way to keep ourselves physically healthy, and current Canadian guidelines recommend that we get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week. It’s a lesser-known fact that exercise is also important for our mental health.

Research has demonstrated that exercise can be a means to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety in a wide variety of populations. Those that experience the most benefit from exercise have mild to moderate cases of depression and anxiety, in which their symptoms can be managed or improved by non-pharmacological means. People from a variety of different demographics, including different age, gender, socio-economic status, and culture, can experience benefits from exercising.

Walking, running, yoga, weights, and fitness classes all have associated mental health benefits, in addition to improvements to overall health. These benefits are often described as having improved mood and mood regulation, better sleep quality, more energy and decreased stress.

In addition, these activities can increase confidence and a sense of personal control. When done in a group setting, social connectedness is an additional benefit. Spending time in nature and green spaces also has calming effects and has been shown to decrease stress and improve mood7.



The amount of benefit a person may derive from exercise depends on a variety of factors, which include:

  • A person’s comfort level and confidence with performing the activity
  • The attitude that they take towards exercise and their perceptions of exercise
  • Their expectations
  • The regularity with which they perform the exercise
  • Their experiences with exercise

Amid the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has brought about uncertainty, living conditions that are unfamiliar to many, and elevated levels of stress, there have been reports of increased levels of stress within the general population.

The best experience with exercise comes about when the individual:

  • Enjoys the activity
  • Experiences a feeling of “control” over their exercise choices
  • Sees progress with their activity related goals
  • Experiences satisfaction from the activity
  • Builds the activity into their routine and performs the activity regularly
  • Performs the activity in a healthy way (not too strenuous, does not over-exert themself, incorporates a reasonable and attainable amount of the activity)
  • Is well supported and develops a community of support

Here are some ways to get active:

  • Go for a walk as your start your day or during your lunch break
  • Break up your physical activity: try 15 minutes of body-weight exercises, a half hour walk at lunch, and 15 minutes of yoga before you wind down for the day
  • Try an online fitness class: There are loads of free videos for all kinds of exercise through Youtube, and if you don’t find anything you like there, there are also lots of subscription services as well
  • Create a routine: Habit is a powerful thing and will remove the effort of planning
  • Make social time exercise time: Go for a walk with friends or family, meet a co-worker at the gym for a fitness class, or join a fitness class to socialize with a group
  • Use active transportation as a way to get exercise time in: if you are within walking or biking distance of work or school, try actively commuting there one day per week, and work in more active trips as you build it into your routine. If you take a city bus, try getting off one stop earlier to add in some walking time

Most of us are juggling busy schedules and it can be difficult to find time for a fitness class or trip to the gym. But exercise doesn’t need to feel overwhelming. Even a 15 minute yoga class and a walk during your lunch break can make a difference to both your physical and your mental health.

If you would like to learn more about Jill Jaworski the author of this post, please CLICK HERE

My Story by Ananya

Hi, I am Ananya (she/they), an international student studying Psychology at Vancouver Island University from Odisha, India. I am also a mental health advocate and work in the field of health care.

My experience with mental health challenges started when I was around five years old; I started to notice that I was different from the people around me. The ways that people expressed themselves were different from mine and I sometimes felt that I was being dramatic. My huge emotions were buried because I didn’t feel safe expressing them.

Somehow, I found out that dancing could be my form of expression. However, dancing was occasional and the months I didn’t dance would make me depressed again, as if I had lost the sunlight. I was scared people would laugh at me, which led to not sharing my things with anyone. My mum was worried, so she told me that there was a mattress fairy who would come at night to see me, and I could share my thoughts with her by writing letters. This helped me for a short time, but soon after I figured out that it was my mum who played the role of mattress fairy, I felt alone again.

I had everything I could ask for, but still nothing would make me happy. I even heard people saying that Apurva (my past name) would never be happy, since I was sad irrespective of having everything. So, I started exploring myself and noticed that my life was like waves: sometimes it was high and sometimes it was low, no matter what the circumstances were. I wanted to be more stable and for that I tried everything on my level; in fact, I changed my name to Ananya to see if that would make any difference, but it was the same as before. I also had massive fears like stage fright, fear of darkness, fear of driving or crossing the streets, fear of being judged and, above all, exam fear. Although I was a good pretender, exam fear was hard to hide as I couldn’t hide the result. One of my teachers even said that my work was of no worth and I was not good at anything. It impacted me to the extreme because I was holding the same thought. Since I felt my existence was worthless, I attempted suicide. Soon the news of me attempting suicide spread everywhere, since I lived in a small town. Instead of providing support, my friends bullied me and said things like I am a weak person. I don’t believe anyone is of weak personality; in fact, there is no such term called “weak person.” I think that most people are doing the very best they can to deal with their situations, and everyone is capable of reaching their full potential.

Since I wanted to figure out why I was different, I decided to pursue Psychology in Canada after high school. I am grateful that I chose this path because in March 2020 I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder and general anxiety disorder. I wouldn’t say that the diagnosis was the only thing that helped me to validate myself, but it was the major reason for me discovering that the feeling one is feeling is true and it’s not that they are pretending.

After the diagnosis I had several changes in my life like I had to come back to India for a bit and had to answer my family about what happened to me by using the words that would sound more usual. A few of my family members thought that studying psychology was the reason behind me having bipolar. Along with them, I doubted whether I would be a good fit for a career in psychology, maybe that time I underestimated myself. I’m sure that I will make a better change in society by being a clinical psychologist. This is my passion, and I will stick to it with all my heart.
I feel like the diagnosis has made me kinder. I am still discovering new things about myself and still working on being okay with me gaining weight or being judged by people. I also feel like the manic episodes are helping me to become more human. I have had two manic episodes so far and they have helped me to grow in some ways; of course, that growth has happened with the support of counselors, medicines, and lots and lots of social connection.

Again, I want to tell you through my story is be kind to yourself, and I know how it feels when someone lets us down, but I want you to know that I think you are a viable being. Nobody knows, not even you, whether you are fit for something or not unless you try. So, never stop trying and eventually I am sure you will reach the place where you are supposed to be.

Psychology Student at Vancouver Island University

Navigating the Holidays, a Pandemic, and your Mental Health

The holidays aren’t just full of cozy family gatherings and crisp winter walks followed by hot chocolate. The disruption to routine, the increase in social obligations and financial and familial pressure can take its toll, particularly for those with mental health struggles. Given the added challenges of navigating the pandemic, the holidays can seem even more daunting this year. Perhaps you’re unable to travel to visit loved ones, or maybe visiting family triggers difficult emotions such as loss. And of course, the holidays come with those dreaded expectations, whether it’s cooking the perfect meal, dealing with financial strain and pressure to buy gifts, or feeling obligated to attend social events when you’re not in the mood. Below are some suggestions for prioritizing your mental health this festive season. A NAMI study showed that 64% of people feel the holidays add greater strain to their mental health.

Managing Expectations

Everyone has different expectations during the holidays, which can lead to conflict and disappointment. None of us are immune to the constant marketing of perfect holiday cheer. Expectations of the perfect meal, the perfect gift, the perfect family vacation can lead to financial strain, stress, and relationship conflict. Take time to reflect on your own expectations and consider letting some of them go.

Fostering Connection if You’re Unable to Visit Loved Ones

With travel restrictions in place, you might not be able to visit loved ones this year. Scheduling calls and Zoom chats are helpful, but don’t take the place of in-person connection. Perhaps there are others in your community that are isolated or struggling during the holidays. You might consider volunteering, dropping off a meal to a neighbour, or asking a friend if they would like to join you for a walk. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, be gentle with yourself and consider finding ways to honour them.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

While connecting with loved ones can be wonderful, family dynamics can also be stressful and complicated. Acknowledge your own needs and take a break from social activities and gatherings when you’re feeling overwhelmed. While being honest about your needs can feel intimidating, it’s better than becoming drained and resentful. This could include simple shifts such as declining to attend an event, asking for help preparing a meal, or setting budget limits for gifts.

Continue to Prioritize Healthy Routines

The holidays can be quite disruptive to normal routines—with an abundance of errands to run and gatherings to attend, self-care practices can be pushed to the side. Many people find the shortening hours of daylight difficult on their mood and sleep routines. Social gatherings can also come with more pressure to consume alcohol, which might provide temporary relief, but can worsen depression and anxiety.

Here are a few tips for finding some grounding during the festive season:

  • Stick to good sleep hygiene practices when possible, such as avoiding screens before bed and setting time aside for relaxing activities in the evening.
  • Balance out those delightful Christmas indulgences with healthy meals, exercise, and hydration.
  • Try out a SAD light to lift your mood during the dark winter months.
  • Carve out time for your needs: whether that’s reading a good book, going for an outdoor wander, scheduling a therapy session, or finding time for an activity that brings you joy.
  • Be kind to yourself: the holidays can bring up stress and complex emotions, particularly given the uncertainties and complications of the pandemic. You’re not alone, and it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.

While the holidays can be full of beautiful traditions and cherished time with loved ones, the festive season can also be challenging for our mental health, particularly with the added strain of the pandemic. Disrupted routines, fewer hours of daylight, complex family situations, and unreasonable expectations can all contribute to greater stress. Remember that many people struggle during the holidays and you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself and take time to prioritize your mental health.

Interview with Amy Frank, Artist

Since 2011, artist and mental health advocate Amy Frank has been touching lives through her creative work, public speaking, and award-winning website. Today, she shares with us about her wellness journey, artistic expression, and hopeful message.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your experiences with artistic expression and mental health advocacy.

I have been creating art since I was a child. By the age of 11, I could draw realistically quite well. In my pre-teens I began to experience depression. By my early teens, I was reaching for drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. In 2004, at the age of 18, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while in the midst of a heavy struggle with self harm, suicidal tendencies, and substance abuse. I have had a long life journey in the past 35 years of living with bipolar disorder, psychosis, drug addiction, sobriety, entrepreneurship, and from time to time emotional and mental stability. My art and writing have accompanied me on that journey.

I started keeping sketchbooks when I was 3, books of poetry when I was 14 and books with daily journal entries at age 16. My journals are actually more of a scrapbook. They include art, photos and writing. I have been documenting my life with mental illness for a very long time. My books – both written and art – mean a lot to me, and one day I hope they can help others.

I turned my art into an Art and Mental Health Advocacy business in 2011. I’ve done quite well in my business but it’s taken 10 years! I am on a journey towards Wellness. Everyday I make choices that support health and sobriety. I’m by no means perfect though. I still mess up in life. That doesn’t change my aim. I know what I want and I have to work at it everyday.

My advocacy work started with wanting to help de-stigmatize mental illness and let those who struggle know they’re not alone, and since 2020 it has morphed into advocating for my rights as I had an upset with the medical system over how psych patients are treated. The goal of my advocacy is still the same: You are not alone.

Readers can find out more about my journey on my Blog.

The “Art Gallery” section of your website uses the heading “Transformation” to describe your work in progress. Can you reflect on some of the most significant changes that you have experienced within yourself and in your art? What are your senses of future change / directions that you hope to pursue?

My Art Gallery album Transformation shows my whole public portfolio to date. It starts when I was a pre-teen and drew things realistically, and then shows how my work began to change as I became sick with mental illness in my teenage years. I used to hate all my art, but in a psychosis that I began experiencing in 2019 there was a lot of light, hope and spirituality. I admire my art now, but sometimes I wish I could see it through other people’s eyes. I don’t always understand the impact of what I create.

I hope to create more large pieces again sometime, as in recent years I’ve been doing a lot of Art as Therapy — which is a term I use to describe a little sketchbook I carry with me everywhere I go. My Art as Therapy is not for sale at this time. I create it for myself.

The change I experience in all of my art is when I’m in the act of creating it. It’s very soothing and repetitive. Something I’ve learned in my art is that there are no mistakes (even when I think there are). Sure, I have a mistake process I use on larger pieces, but ultimately my work turns out exactly how it’s meant to.

I don’t know what future changes will come about to my art but I know it will continue to change and evolve just like it always has. I have over 400 images in my portfolio at this date. That’s a lot! I’m truly proud of how far my Art and Mental Health Advocacy business have come in the last 10 years and I hope I continue to capture my life journey in art and writing.

How has your artwork helped you to challenge some of the stigmas that surround mental illness?

I still experience stigma around mental illness; however, my advocacy work has let me meet a lot of people and have many impactful conversations. I meet a lot of strangers who care deeply about me and my art. Too many people either understand mental illness themselves or love someone who experiences mental illness. An important thing to remember is everyone’s experiences are unique.

Most people I meet through my advocacy are very compassionate and express a lot of gratitude towards me. Being vulnerable in my advocacy has been a positive experience. I realize there’s stigma out there and there’s always going to be people who judge me based on the sole fact that I have a mental illness. That doesn’t stop me from speaking my truth about my experiences. I meet way too many amazing people to stop, and I know there are far too many people out there who feel judged, scared, and alone. I want them to know that they’re not alone. . I for one understand the struggle all too well.

Your current sketchbook collections are entitled “Conversations with Algorithms” (2020) and “Navigating Wonderland” (2020 – 2021). Can you tell us some more about where these titles came from and the ideas behind them?

“Conversations with the Algorithms” and “Navigating Wonderland” are sketchbooks that I call Art as Therapy. Both books illustrate my life in a surreal/fantasy type way as I journey through life with bipolar disorder and psychosis. There are back stories to almost every piece I create; however, these are not being disclosed to the public at this time. I do hope to talk about them more in the far future.

In a sentence or two, what is the core message that you would like to share with our readers?

Have hope. Remember that emotions and thoughts come in waves. Every moment moves along eventually, the good moments and the bad. I also want to emphasize how powerful picking up a pen can be in moments of despair, chaos, and angst. Whether you scribble, draw, or write, it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. You can still release some of the emotion just by putting your pen to the paper.

How can we best stay in touch with you?

You can add me as a friend or follow my public Facebook posts:

Email is also a great way to stay in touch with me: [email protected]

Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Amy!

Riding the Bipolar Roller Coaster

As that famous Silver Screen philosopher Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

And so the story goes for those of us ‘Touched with Fire’—to salute my fellow bipolarities, movie-maker Paul Dalio and writer/activist Kay Redfield Jamison. 

For bipolar—the modern term for manic-depression—is as unpredictable a life experience as any could be.

Especially for myself. A now 48-year-old Brit living in Canada, who graduated to full bipolar status nearly six years ago.

Aged 42 and having seemingly recovered from a breakdown/major depressive episode 10 months earlier, I went into mania

Which felt amazing at the time. I thought I’d healed myself and felt euphoric on a daily basis. The sights and sounds and smells and colours of life were brilliant, in every sense. I had energy to burn and rarely needed sleep.

Speaking at a mile a minute I told anyone that I’d metaphorically flipped open my head, vacuumed out all the negativity and trauma of the past, and discovered the elixir of life.

Until my behaviour became increasingly erratic.

I gave away a laptop and mobile phone to random strangers, had multiple dalliances with the police and attempted a ‘Run to Florida’ barefoot.

And did I mention I thought I was the Second Coming?

The culmination of mania resulted in a naked midnight run through downtown London, Ontario, screaming to the world “Listen to me!” Bemused taxi drivers cowered behind their cabs during the incident.

This was mania for me, which I was blissfully unaware of. Until a 10-week stint in two London psych wards brought me down and made me aware.


I initially refused to take any medication, so remained manic. I was fearless, physically super-strong—it took five people to hold me down and sedate me. I spent my days concocting ways to entertain and make my fellow patients laugh.

I was like Patch Adams on speed.

But, of course, none of this was sustainable and I eventually realized that I wasn’t going to get out of hospital unless I took the medication. 

Life, of course, has never been the same since.

I was on medication for a while, as I recovered and shared a group home with another person with a mental illness.

My London, Ontario family (aunt, uncle and cousins) were incredible, while my superstar parents and siblings ultimately helped me reset and recharge back in England.

I eventually returned to Canada—back west to Vancouver, before relocating to Victoria for a fresh start in September 2017.

With only about $8K to my name I bought a converted Dodge Grand Caravan and largely slept in that for 12 months. Now med-free, I got back into running, made new friends and was stable for about a year.

Until the mania returned.

This time the ‘highs’ were more escapades with the police, an ‘incident’ in Starbucks and crashing my van having sped around Greater Victoria like an F1 racing driver.

Three stays at Royal Jubilee followed, plus more medication and thankfully a route back to reality via some excellent healthcare, my own apartment and the unconditional but still remarkable help and support of my family and friends.

The recovery road is hard and the drugs caused me to gain 30+ lbs in weight. I was also seriously sapped in energy and motivation as I came out of the mania, yet felt numbed, low in vitality and veered into depression.

But somewhere inside me I knew I just had to keep myself alive. Even if that meant surviving on pizza and granola bars and zoning out on YouTube.

And gradually I started to see some progress.

I started working part-time and writing articles for the James Bay Beacon. I was also weaned off the medication safely with medical guidance and, inspired by friends, got back into running.

Now, running six days a week, I’ve dropped 30+ lbs, regained my fit/strong body and reignited my mojo for life. For me, it’s the best ‘medicine’ but medication helped me for a time when I needed it.

Are there still challenges? Of course. I still grapple with depression and struggle to make sense of being single and childless at 48. And there’s still the deep-rooted fear that the mania could return.

But I’m focused on ‘solutions’ and the management strategies working for me.

Science (highlighted by John J. Ratey’s 2008 book Spark) tells me that the running is literally regenerating my brain, growing new neural pathways and reversing the shrinkage that bouts of depression can cause.

Working from home (a three-second commute) and controlling my schedule also eliminates most of the soul-sapping stresses often prevalent in a regular 9-5 job, while I surround myself with good people and keep my mind sharp and active.

Then there’s the ‘silent assassin’ of stigma that surrounds mental illness and all those afflicted. While your family and true friends will stick by you, some will fade into the background, never replying to messages or seemingly ignoring you.

Do they now think you’re ‘damaged goods’ and don’t want to touch you with the proverbial barge pole?

All-too-often it’s lazy ignorance and a simple lack of education. With Google at our fingertips, we  can learn about bipolar in 10 minutes, while it takes 10 seconds to send a quick text or email.

We’re still the same people underneath. With the same good nature, humour and talents at our disposal.

Life’s an education—and never more so than when you’re forced to do the tango with a mental illness.

But human beings have remarkable resilience and powers of recovery.

And the potential to run like Forrest Gump.


John Atkinson

*Note that this is John’s unique story and your experience may be different. Please consult your doctor before making any adjustments to medication. 


Positive Effect Pets Have on Mental Health

“A dog is a man’s best friend.” But research has come to teach us that pretty much any pet can be your best friend. The bond between humans and animals dates back several centuries. Over time the relationship between humans and animals has evolved from one based on usefulness to one based on care and love.

According to a Harris poll carried out in 2015, 95% of pet owners consider their pets part of the family. And these unconventional family members come with health boons, like lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and heart disease risk. These perks may arise as a consequence of the additional exercise that playing and walking involve, and the stress relief that comes from having your best buddy by your side all of the time. 

An estimated 68% of U.S households have a pet, even though pets are often kept for companionship above all else.

They can be beneficial to your mental health in the following ways:  

Pets Reduce Stress

When work, relationships, or other aspects of your life put a strain on your mind, a pet often helps reduce such stress. According to research, simply petting your pet decreases the stress hormone cortisol, and interaction between humans and their pets, particularly dog owners, boosts levels of the feel-good hormone. (Oxytocin)- the same hormone that bonds a mother to her kids. Even watching fish swim in an aquarium reduces stress and helps you relax and practice mindfulness.

Healthy Routines

Owning a pet means taking care of their daily needs. Putting together a schedule for grooming, feeding, and playing with a pet is an excellent way to bring order and predictability to other aspects of your life. Routines give a fundamental sense of control to those suffering from anxiety or depression. Also, children taking care of pets develop a sense of responsibility at a young age, which will help them later in life

Pets Boost Physical Activities

Come rain, come snow, come sunshine; some pet owners have no other choice than to walk their pets, thus providing them with a compulsory dose of exercise daily. 

Some pets require more activities than others, so it’s advisable to pick a pet whose activity levels match yours or drives you to exercise more.

Pets Increase our Sense of Self-esteem & Well-Being

Pet owners are known to have better self-esteem, be less fearful, and be more extroverted than others. In a report published by the American Psychological Association, pets increased the feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and meaning to their owner. 

Thus, it is safe to conclude that pets improved the general well-being of their owners.

Pets Support Recovery

Having a pet is incredibly beneficial to people healing from mental health conditions. Researchers have found evidence that having a pet benefits individuals battling mental health conditions. The reports from the research indicated that pets helped their owners manage their emotions and distract them from the symptoms of their mental health condition. In the case of veterans living with PTSD, service dogs played a vital role as a form of complementary treatment for PTSD. 

Everyone battling mental illness should be able to access mental health treatment, resources, support, as well as interaction with a companion animal. The more people understand the health benefits of human-animal bonds, the more likely we will see pet-friendly businesses, apartment complexes, and therapy animals welcomed in nursing homes, hospitals, college campuses, and other settings. Hence, through research and campaigning, the role of pets in boosting mental health can expand.


Guest Post by James Adisa

Wondering When is the Right Time to Seek Help from a Child Counsellor?

Stress and anxiety rates have skyrocketed in the last 18 months due to the pandemic. According to a CBC report, the main concern among educators is not the long gap or loss in academic performance but 90% of the teachers are concerned about the mental health of their students and peers. Anxiety levels in youth and children were already high pre-pandemic, but the effects of COVID-19 have just compounded these issues further.

Dr. Shimi Kang states that some of the mental health issue trends that are on a rise with children and youth are:

Social Anxiety: After spending months behind screens and masks, children are anxious to assimilate back into a social environment and build skills of confidence, set healthy boundaries and engage in open communication.

Technology Addiction: Heavy reliance on technology to stay occupied through gaming and social media, stay connected socially with their friends, and access their schoolwork have further exacerbated the issue of increased screen time – leading to problems such as lack of control, distorted self-image due to social media, acting out/aggression when boundaries are being set, depression and isolation as they withdraw socially.

Hyper Sociability & Substance Use: An increasing trend in adolescents where they want to socialize more than before, and this has been found to lead to increased alcohol and drug abuse.

Increased awareness and acceptance around mental health crises lately has led to an unprecedented increase in demand for these services. The system is overwhelmed and translates into long wait times for therapists to see children and youth in these crises.

CBC News early last year reported that the Canadian Mental Health Association estimated an average wait time for certain kinds of mental health services to be stretched for several months to a year or more.

To meet this need Dr. Shimi Kang and her team at Dolphin Kids have recently expanded their offerings to include counselling services geared towards children, youth, and their families. What makes this service unique is that all the counsellors work with collaborative support from a psychiatrist, Dr. Shimi Kang herself, who has been in the field for almost 20 years. 

So how could counselling help your child and when is a good time to seek help?

  • If your child has experienced recent trauma, bullying, or loss of some kind and has not had previous help;
  • If they are acting out and/or aggressive;
  • If you feel like you are not able to help your child with their feelings and manage their emotions;
  • If your child seems to get more aggravated when talking to you, or fear that they may disappoint you;
  • If they are choosing to isolate and disconnect, withdrawing from activities they once enjoyed;
  • And on a more extreme end, if they engage in self harm or suicidal attempts or addictive behaviours;
  • All of these are indicators that a counsellor may be helpful to intervene and help build a safe trusting environment and be able to navigate these difficult emotions, experiences, and conversations.

Child Counsellors can help with:

  • Identifying the underlying issues that are affecting your child’s overall health and well-being. They can help them become aware, identify, and talk about their feelings.
  • Interpreting the issues they are experiencing and/or the trauma that occurred – in a way they can process and understand.
  • Various issues such as, stress and anxiety, anger management, coping skills, school-based issues- such as bullying, academic pressures, peer pressure and influence, as well as technology use, screentime, drug/alcohol addiction, family issues – such as divorce, single parent, grief and much more.
  • Dolphin Kids counsellors use methods and resources that seem to be familiar and attractive to young minds i.e., through arts, games, role playing, downtime practices- like journaling or drawing and other fun activities that they can identify with and hence achieve the desired counselling goals through these friendly methods.

If you feel you need additional support to help your child and family navigate through some Emotional – Mental Health challenges, our team of multidisciplinary and multi-linguistic counsellors are here to help. Simply email us at [email protected] or visit our website

Vai Patri – Stigma-Free Champion Feature

Back in December 2020, Andrea Paquette, President and Co-Founder of the Stigma-Free Society, held a live event interview with Vai Patri, singer, songwriter, and advocate for HSV and Borderline Personality Disorder. Today, Vai shares with us some more about her experiences and core messages as an artist and advocate.

Who are you? Tell us a bit about your experience with stigma and mental health.

I’m Vai Patri. I’m a singer, producer, songwriter, actress, and upcoming podcast host. Two and a half years ago, I was in a toxic relationship when I contracted HSV. I immediately thought the worst. I was reeling from playing all the uneducated jokes on TV and stupid remarks made by college frat boys about herpes over and over in my head. I couldn’t stop telling myself I was no longer beautiful, no longer worthy, and that I was damaged goods. At the time, I was recovering from an eating disorder and other mental health issues. The emotions I felt when diagnosed brought all my insecurities to the forefront; it felt like I’d taken two steps forward and ten back.  

I find that I share that emotion in common with many of the people I speak to. I had convinced myself to stay with my ex, who truly wasn’t right for me. I had also convinced myself that no one would ever want me, see me for me, or love me because of HSV. As a result of being bullied by people I thought were my friends, feeling trapped, and all the rest, I attempted to take my life. I was put in the psych ward. Then I got out. And then I changed my entire perspective, and in doing so, my life. 

I’ve come quite far from those premonitions. I’m confident, ferocious, and adamant that this DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Here’s some of what I’ve learned. 

  • The perpetuating incorrect and uneducated stigma that exists around HSV is far more difficult to deal with than the actual condition. 
  • Despite what you’ve heard, yes I’ll say it again, THIS DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE.
  • HSV will not stop you from having a sex life, having kids, finding love, falling in love, or being short of anything that you are. 
  • Disclosure gets easier. 
  • Believe me when I tell you this experience can make you stronger. I’m proof. 

Why are you a Stigma-Free champion?

I will answer this honestly: the stigma that surrounds HSV affected my mental health to the point where I tried to take my life. I’m not alone. I will fight tooth and nail to eradicate  the incorrect stigma that exists around STD’s and many other conditions in my upcoming podcast, “Not One Thing (defines you”). As I gain momentum, I will fight to change the education system, which fails to give people the tools and information they need to combat real life experiences.

My family has since stopped speaking to me as a result of my activism; I fight to change mindsets like theirs. The work that the Stigma-Free Society is doing is essential. 

How have you used your experiences to make a difference?

Personally, and I don’t know if you can relate – when I endure trauma, I want something GOOD to come out of it. I want to turn a horrible experience into something positive. When I was diagnosed, I began reaching out to other people with the condition on anonymous forms. I quickly realized that relatability and sharing experiences was an antidote ; when you feel so many crazy emotions colliding  in your head, knowing that you are rational for your emotions and not insane for feeling them is the anecdote.

I put out a Youtube video on HSV two years ago and I never expected for it to generate the reaction it did – it made me realize how important it is to speak out and how powerful storytelling  is. I’ve started a support group on IG, I try to talk to as many people as I can, and I’ll  continue to figure out ways to challenge the way sexual education is taught in school. 

My upcoming podcast “Not One Thing” (as in not one thing defines you – a motto that got me through my experience) will explore not only HSV, but other conditions such as BPD which I was later diagnosed with, C-PTSD, HIV, sex addiction and more. 

Why do you think it’s important to talk about mental health and stigma?

It can save a life. It saved my life. 


In one sentence, what is your message to the Stigma-Free community? 


Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Vai!


Truth and Reconciliation Day Sept. 30th

Today marks the first annual National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada. Previously, this day was acknowledged as Orange Shirt Day, an informal event where residents of Canada were encouraged to wear orange t-shirts to show support and solidarity with residential school survivors. Now nationally recognized, Truth and Reconciliation day is marked by the long history of Indigenous-settler relations in Canada, beginning centuries ago when this land was first colonized, moving through to present-day where many Indigenous communities are still facing mistreatment and the legacy of residential schools remains. 

At the Stigma-Free Society, we firmly believe that Indigenous folks from across Turtle Island should be acknowledged and recognized as the caretakers of this land that they are today, and have always been. Stigma and racism faced by Indigenous communities remains pervasive in Canada, and the mental health challenges that can arise from these experiences must be acknowledged. We encourage everyone to join and promote our partnering organization We Matter in their vital work of sharing stories of hope and resilience among Indigenous youths and amplifying the voices of young Indigenous creatives. 

What is Truth and Reconciliation?  

In 2008, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was founded in response to the lawsuit against the Canadian government regarding the atrocities of residential schools. According to Facing History & Ourselves, “since the beginning of its work in 2010, the commission has been collecting information about what was done to survivors in the residential schools and has worked to make this information public. From this process, the survivors receive public, communal acknowledgement and support for years of injustice and suffering.” A vital part of the commission’s work is educating the public on residential schools, a part of Canadian history that has for far too long gone unacknowledged.  

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has published their Calls to Action, which you can find HERE. These 94 Calls to Action address various injustices that have been pervasive in Indigenous communities across Canada and are intended to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” 

What can educators do on Truth and Reconciliation Day?

Acknowledging the legacy of Residential Schools and educating young people on the continued mistreatment of Indigenous folks in Canada is a crucial step in working toward justice and change. Historically, these conversations have been left-out of commonplace curriculum in schools, an exemption that can perpetuate stigma. Weaving this history, Indigenous culture and teachings into lessons and classroom conversations is important throughout the entire school year. However, on this day in particular, it is vital to engage in  these conversations. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website provides educators with invaluable resources that can be implemented in their classrooms today and throughout the entire school year.

What can I do on Truth and Reconciliation Day?

Something that we can all do on Truth and Reconciliation day is read the 94 Calls to Action, put forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Again, that resource can be found HERE. Reading and learning about these Calls to Action can inform Canadians about the issues facing Indigenous folks, and this awareness is the first step in being part of this fundamental change. 

Another small act you can do is to wear an orange shirt to show acknowledgement and support of residential school survivors. This website provides links to online shops where you can purchase orange T-shirts that have been designed by Indigenous creators and where the proceeds will go to supporting Indigenous causes. 

Throughout this week, from September 27th to October 1st 2021, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is hosting online events for schools. Educators are encouraged to participate in these virtual events with their students. They are also hosting livestream events for the general public throughout the week. The recordings will be housed on their website after the events for folks to watch if they cannot attend live. 

 By taking this time to listen and learn, we can work together toward awareness, change, and hope.