How Bullying Affects Mental Health

Bullying is surprisingly common: one in five students between 12 and 18 years old report that they have experienced it. Bullying has a huge impact on the mental health of not only targets, but bystanders who witness an incident. Stigma can contribute to bullying among kids and teens. But fostering a safe, accepting environment where students feel comfortable reaching out for help can reduce it. Keep reading to learn more about the different forms of bullying, its effects on mental health, and what you can do to stop it.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying happens when someone intimidates or harms a person who they view as less powerful than them. For instance, a bully may be physically stronger than their target, have a higher social status at school, or know something about the target that could hurt or embarrass them. Bullying is not to be confused with fighting, which happens between people who have the same level of status or power. Bullies may use physical or verbal violence against their targets. This can include hitting, pushing, verbal threats, or name-calling.


Bullying doesn’t just happen at school. Overall, teens experience more bullying online than they do in real life. Nearly 2 in 3 teens have experienced cyberbullying, meaning their bully targeted them through social media, text, or other online platforms. Like in-person bullying, cyberbullying can go unnoticed by parents and teachers for a long time before it’s recognized as a problem.

Bullying and Mental Health

When a young person experiences bullying, it can seriously affect their mental health and identity. During childhood and adolescence, people are trying to explore themselves, their social roles, and find where they fit in. Bullying can interfere with this process and make it hard to form healthy relationships. As a result, targets of bullying may develop mental illnesses like anxiety or depression, and struggle with low self-esteem even later in life.

One important aspect of bullying that’s often looked over is the mental health of the bully. A study from Brown University showed that bullies are more than twice as likely to have a mental illness compared to students who weren’t considered bullies. Findings like this highlight the importance of helping students find a healthy outlet for anger or aggression and offering support if they need it.

Putting a Stop to Bullying

The Anti-Bullying Alliance spoke to young people about their experiences with bullying. They identified ways to stop bullying and reduce the effects it has on students’ mental health. Students said they needed more mental health support offered to them at school. More specifically, they needed to feel like the support had less stigma around it. Young people also wanted students and staff to collaborate and generate ideas on how to provide this support. They emphasized that staff should make students feel comfortable talking openly about their experience with bullying.
The students also wanted adults to be more aware that acting out or being disruptive may be a cry for help, and a sign that they are struggling with mental health. Actively listening to a young person’s concerns is an effective way for a student or teacher to help a student who tells them they are being bullied. This is a simple but underestimated way to help targets of bullying.

Anti-Bullying Resources

Are you interested in learning more about bullying prevention and how you can help young people who are being bullied? Here are a few organizations that provide programs and information on how to stop bullying.

PREVNet has a wealth of anti-bullying resources for parents and teachers to educate students about bullying and how to prevent it.

Bullying Canada is a charity that provides a 24/7 phone and online chat service that students can access here, as well as resources on how to stop bullying.

Stomp Out Bullying has a free, confidential crisis chat service. Young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who are being bullied or cyberbullied can get support from a counselor.

Make your school a stigma-free zone.

Stigma-Free Society’s Student Mental Health Toolkit offers a variety of resources to educate students on mental health and eliminate stigma. If you are an educator interested in teaching your students about bullying and mental health, visit our Lesson Plans page for grades 8-12 and request access to view our lesson on Bullying in High School: The Long-Term Effects. This lesson plan aligns with the BC curriculum and contains a variety of activities to foster greater awareness about bullying and encourage inclusion in your classroom.

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. 


Calvin “Kalvonix” Tiu – Stigma-Free Champion Feature

My name is Calvin “Kalvonix” Tiu and I am a rapper, writer, public speaker, creative and Mental Health Advocate. Growing up with Cerebral Palsy,

I have first-hand experience of feeling unworthy and useless due to bullying. While I did not see it initially, I realize now that these hardships have had a tremendous effect on my creativity and how I carry myself as a whole. While being whipped with skipping ropes or being called “Cripple” every day was extremely taxing on my mental health, I have learned to appreciate my painful experiences as they have given me the drive to push forward. Discovering Eminem at a young age around the same time the bullying started, I quickly connected with how he wrote about his struggles and put it into words that others connected with.

Wanting to capitalize on this inspiration, I picked up a pen, a journal and a cheap computer mic and began to write and record rap songs that served as artful reflections of my life’s journey.

Over fifteen years later, I have many self-produced solo albums, garnered over 2 million streams on Spotify and do lots of public speaking work to youth in which I share my story and encourage others to find their passions.

As someone who lives with a physical disability as well as struggles with anxiety on a daily basis, I hope that those who encounter myself and my work will be able to find their own inspiration and help spark their own ideas to advocate for mental health as well as pursue their passions. 

Why are you a Stigma-Free Champion?

I am a Stigma-Free Champion because I believe in the power of working together to make a change. I believe that everybody has a story worth telling but sometimes, we need a spark to give somebody the encouragement to tell their story and help others. Mental health is something that we all have and all experience on a daily basis and yet it is still somewhat of a taboo topic. Society has come a long way even since I was in high school in regards to mental health, but there is still more work to do. I think in order for stigma to be reduced and mental health struggles to continue to be taken more seriously, we have to reach the youth in fun and creative ways that they can relate to.

With this in mind, I hope to use my voice, music talent, and passion to reach as many people as I can to help continue the conversations surrounding mental health. 

How have you used your experiences to make a difference? 

I try to always use my creativity, voice and platforms to push my advocacy for mental health. For instance, in 2015 with the help of the English Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, my friend and I embarked on an Outreach Workshop tour where we went to high schools in the Richmond, Langley and Surrey School Districts. The workshop focused on our life stories and journey in finding our passions for rap and poetry and using it to inspire others. We then used the second half of the workshop to focus on getting the students to focus on exploring their own individual passions and how they can incorporate them into their everyday lives just as myself and my friend did. I still do my own solo version of this workshop as a private contract to this day.

I have also spent the past few years as a speaker for in which I also visited high schools and presented on mental health including ways we can support ourselves and each other.

As for my music, a common theme that runs through much of my work is mental health as I use my music as a creative outlet to release my feelings surrounding my life experience and passions. I have music for all moods and by no means am I saying every song has a deep message, but the music that means the most to me is the ones that truly deal with my inner emotions and the hardships that I have experienced. When I receive messages or when students come up to me and tell me that a song of mine has inspired them or made them feel better during a tough time, it is such a satisfying feeling as I think back to my younger self who did not have a voice. 

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

I think it is important to talk about mental health and stigma as we all deal with it. We are all here on this one planet and are all dealing with our own struggles on a regular basis. When you think about it like that, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to talk to each other and help each other find ways to cope. If we normalize these types of conversations and realize that we are all trying to figure out a way to navigate our struggles, I believe that the stigma will naturally decrease day by day. It can be as simple as that, but we have to keep putting in the work. 

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

We all got our passion, love and commitment to mental health so what are we waiting for?!

Let’s go!!! 

Another Day by Sanjana Karthik

I believe that when you are young, you can be vulnerable to various changes and experiences that take place within your own body, your life, and the overall world you reside in. Being an adolescent gives way to challenges and the need to balance several aspects of one’s life. For instance, there is a need to accommodate changes with friends, dynamics with family members, managing the stresses of school, extracurriculars, universities, and overall just finding a sense of self at the same time. These things can be overwhelming, especially with changes happening in one’s own body, and navigating the world with the pressures and influences that come with it.  These stresses arising from these changes can impact one’s mental health.

Being a high school student is acquainted with its own sets of challenges. For example, peer pressure and influences can make it difficult for us high schoolers to discover a sense of self.

It is easy for us to lose track of who we are at times, while also maintaining the balance of growing and developing into new versions of ourselves.

Things like drugs and alcohol seem appealing, and poor influences can change our reference points and make us lose sight of the person we wish to become. It is easy for us to fall sway to the habits and lifestyle of other people, and compare ourselves to others, not realizing the individuality and authenticity we must reach instead.

High school also lends itself to people directing time and energy to new friendships, and possibly exploring romantic relationships. This can bring with it confusion, peer pressure, and heartbreak as well, which affects one’s mental state. Youth also have to cope with new dynamics with regards to their relationships with their parents, by finding a sense of autonomy, but still maintaining relationships and ties with family members as well. It can often be a balancing and struggling act with regards to respecting and upholding family values, but also finding a sense of self, and individuality as well.

Taking care of your mental health is essential, and unfortunately, it’s not a thought that crosses people’s minds at all times during this age. Energy is put into simply “surviving life” at times for high schoolers, and we are not able to live beyond that state of mind and genuinely enjoy it. I recommend people connect with tools and strategies for taking care of their health that align with their interests and personalities. 

I enjoy writing, which is why every day I try to accommodate goal gratitude and reflective journaling into my schedule. Taking time to work through my mental processes is important to me, and helps me evaluate and alter my life where crucial. Additionally, taking care of my physical health lends itself to a better mindset. Practicing positive affirmations, mindfulness, and breathing exercises, along with working out and doing yoga are some methods of this. Maintaining a healthy diet, and connections with people adds to a wholesome and self-fulfilling feeling as well.

COVID-19 has allowed the school system to transition into a quarter system. For some, including myself, it can be a blessing. The system has allowed me to channel more energy towards two courses at a time, allowing for improved grades, and more time for other things, including prioritization of my health and connections with others. However, for the upcoming year, the quarterly system will no longer be a hybrid system and will amount to its own sets of pros and cons as well. 

To support youth’s mental health the community needs to work towards addressing the issues of this vulnerable age group. Parents can lend themselves to meaningful conversations with their youth and talk about issues or problems in their life as well. Open conversations and communications about how youth feel about their relationships with friends, family, school, mental health, and other crucial aspects of their lives are crucial.  

Teaching youth strategies of generating their happiness and prioritizing their mental health on a day-to-day basis, regardless of where they may fall on their mental health spectrum are possibilities that are beneficial to explore.


Sanjana Karthik

High School Student

Men Experience Eating Disorders Too

Hi, my name is Sterling and I go by he/him pronouns.

I am an established mental health advocate and a proud Stigma-Free Society Presenter. I am writing this to share a glimpse of my lived experience of mental illness, recovery, and mental health advocacy.

I have always batted high levels of anxiety for as long as I can remember. I did well in elementary school, however, I always had my anxiety disorder looming over me. When I made the transition from elementary to high school, I found the increase in academic and social stress to be overwhelming. In an attempt to cope with the stressors,  I turned to something I thought I could control, my food and exercise habits. This desire to control my food and exercise habits quickly spiraled into an obsession and within months I was admitted to my local hospital in a life-threatening condition. 

This experience began a vicious cycle of hospital admissions and treatment programs for several years. One aspect of my battle with an eating disorder that I struggled to come to terms with was the stigma that surrounded my diagnoses.

I am a man and, as a result, I did not fit the stereotypical person diagnosed with anorexia.

 I felt so much shame about my mental illnesses that every time I returned to school from a hospital or a treatment program, I “lied” about why I had been in hospital for so long. When I left school early to go to an appointment with a therapist or doctor, I felt embarrassed.  Every time I cried or needed extra help or support, I thought I was weak and did not live up to the stereotypical “tough man” that I thought I had to be. I also faced invalidating comments from my classmates, who told me there was “no way I could have an eating disorder” or “I don’t look ‘anorexic’”. 

I internalized all of those painful feelings because I thought no one would understand.

In my grade 12 year I was hospitalized yet again and applied to university in hospital. It was then that I made the conscious choice to ask for more intensive support and I decided to commit to recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic cut my treatment program short and made recovery initially more difficult. Through asking for more virtual support, day by day I got closer to my goal of attending a university that fall. In addition to the long and challenging recovery from my eating disorders that I faced,  I also had to battle the stigma that I internalized. 

Battling the stigma that I internalized meant changing my perception of what it meant for me to live with mental illness. In my recovery journey, I learned that having a mental illness does not make me or anyone else “weak” or “crazy”. In fact, I learned that living with and battling mental illness is a sign of strength. I discovered that seeing a therapist and taking medications to treat my mental illnesses does not make me any less of a man. 

I did make it to my goal of going to university, and now I am a chemistry and psychology double major at Trent University. After being well on my way to recovery, I decided to work towards becoming a mental health advocate. I am involved in various advocacy organizations at my university and beyond.

I am very grateful to have the opportunity to continue to share my lived experience through the Stigma-Free Society. 


Sterling Renzoni 

Stigma-Free Society School and Community Presenter

From Battling Lifelong Stigmas to Scholarship Award Winner – Meet Juls

We are incredibly proud to introduce you to Juls Budau, winner of the Stigma-Free Society – Otsuka Lundbeck Alliance Scholarship. Registered in the Masters in Social Work program at the Northern University of British Columbia, Juls will use this scholarship money to pay for her tuition, something she wasn’t sure how she was going to cover before she won the scholarship. These scholarships are awarded to inspirational individuals who are working towards ending stigmas and encouraging change in the field of mental health.

Juls’ Story:

Since 16, Juls has fought against a variety of stigmas, including living in poverty, mental illness, drug use, self-harming and sexual abuse. After being diagnosed with ADHD at age 31 and self-medicating for years, Juls battled the stigmas around mental illness and drug use. Years after diagnosis, she has finally received the support, education and guidance she needed to be able to successfully dive into her graduate work.

Now 36, Juls has set her sights on helping change health care policy. Hoping that her research on how cycles of perpetuating criminalization and stigmatization affect attitudes of the public, service providers and drug users themselves regarding the overdose crisis will help health care providers create a pocket of openness of safety for stigmatized individuals.

A message from Juls:

When asked what message she would like to give others she said,

“If you feel like your being stigmatized, remember to look at the person doing the stigmatizing – you need to find the right people to have in your life and those that stigmatize you are not your people”.

Living with and battling the numerous stigmas she’s faced in her life, Juls happily announces that she has learned that she is strong and smart – and that a lot of the opinions and negative attitudes she faced had to do with greater systems and economic control. Now, by further educating herself in the area of social work, we’re sure she will make a positive impact and create the change she is hoping to create.

Congratulations on your scholarship, Juls. We cannot wait to see the great work we know you’re going to do in the area of stigmatization. We are beyond proud to announce you as one of our scholarship winners. Good luck to you!

Thank you to Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance for their generous sponsorship in funding the Stigma-Free Society’s Stigma-Free Scholarships.

Author, Lindsay Goulet – Community Development Manager, SFS

Embracing Emotions to Create Change: Meet Scholarship Winner Kristine Robles

With the support from the Otsuka-Lunbeck Alliance, we are so proud to announce Kristine Robles as one of the recipients of a Stigma-Free Society scholarship for post-secondary education. Kristine is currently enrolled as a full-time student in the Master of Counselling Psychology: School and Youth program at Adler University.

These scholarships are awarded to inspirational individuals who are working towards ending stigmas and encouraging change in the field of mental health. Kristine began her work in the field of mental health awareness as a volunteer for a Peer Support program that had a goal to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness by debunking myths and encouraging others to talk about their struggles. Ultimately, the number one goal was to empower those in the program to  strive for a healthier lifestyle and mindset and to reach out when they needed the support to power through. Over time, Kristine’s passion grew and she felt a strong connection between herself and her community. She began volunteering for the Kids Help Phone Crisis text-line and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

But what inspired Kristine to begin working in the field of De-stigmatizing mental illness?

Growing up in a Collectivist Culture that values the needs of the community over the individual had Kristine bottling up her emotions for years and years. She grew up tending to the needs of others while ignoring her own. Bottling up her emotions for years eventually led to panic attacks any time she tried to open up. By holding in her emotions, Kristine began talking negatively about herself and very little self-confidence and self-esteem.

It wasn’t until her father attempted suicide that she realized the importance of opening up and talking about her emotions with her friends and family. She decided then and there  that the way she was living her life wasn’t sustainable and needed to change.

“This experience opened up my eyes and changed my family’s worldview about mental health. We all realized that we were struggling and unhappy. Unfortunately, it took a severe and serious turning point for this realization to occur. However, we started opening up to one another and accepted each other’s emotions openly and willingly. We no longer wanted to feel like a burden or shameful when wanting to express our feelings. This critical point has changed our lives forever and spiked my interest in mental health.”

From her personal struggles and her Dad’s battle against depression, Kristine decided that she wanted to do more than crisis intervention, she wanted to be able to provide therapy and counselling to those who need help. She has decided to put 100% of the scholarship toward her Masters program tuition and we are beyond proud of Kristine and the work she has done.

Good luck, Kristine. Thank you for helping educate others on the importance of emotional and mental health. We know you’re going to do great things!

Congratulations on your scholarship!

Author: Lindsay Goulet, Community Development Manager, SFS

stigma free society

Ten-Year Old Owen is Paving the Way for Future Generations

stigma free societyOwen is 10 years old and started experiencing severe anxiety in grade 2, and his mental illness continues to induce panic attacks during the most difficult moments in his life. He became officially diagnosed in grade 5 with anxiety and depression. I spoke with Owen for this particular story and he is a genuine, cheery, intelligent and particularly sweet young man. He is one of the most entertaining and amazing individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of engaging with during my 10-year Stigma-Free Society career. I am humbled and feel so honoured to have spoken with Owen and observe his demonstrated strength in working through his personal challenges.

According to the latest statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association, it is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Today, approximately 5% of male youth and 12% of female youth, age 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million.

Owen and I discussed how he positively deals with his mental health issues and he attested that sharing his struggles has been the most therapeutic experience. He finds comfort in his parent’s care, love of his friends, and particularly treasures solace in his most practised sport – hockey.

Recently, Owen created a mental health campaign partnered with his mother Lindsay Gee, and produced a fundraising campaign called Pushing for Awareness. Owen and his mom encouraged participants to commit to 50 push-ups for 50 days in order to raise awareness, and funds for childhood mental illness. When people joined the challenge, they received access to an app that keeps track of their push ups and gives them their own fundraising page to share with their friends and family.

Owen and Lindsay have been featured in multiple local newspapers in Victoria, BC and they raised over $5000 together in their efforts. Owen called me personally and proudly voiced that he was donating $1000 of his campaign’s earnings to the Stigma-Free Society. As President of the Charity, I was overwhelmed by this young man who told me that sharing personal stories of mental health experiences is the most important part of healing from a mental illness.

The most significant message that Owen shares is simple, “It’s okay to talk about it.” I had tears in my eyes during our conversation because I felt something much deeper from our short time together.

I have hope for the future because of Owen as he revealed his vulnerabilities to me, a complete stranger, and he feels very safe talking about his emotions. He is paving the way for future generations who may be feeling unsure, or intimidated about sharing their truth with adults who can help them get the assistance that they need.

Thank you Owen for your bravery, courage and simply being an amazing human being. Young people, like you, will help others come forth with their struggles, and you will no doubt save many lives through your transparency. I thank you immensely for your bravery and the Stigma-Free Society is truly grateful for your generous donation to our Stigma-Free Zone Program and we will do everything we can to visit your classroom soon.

Continue to keep your head held high Owen because we at the Stigma-Free Society are supporting you every step of the way.

Jason: 1 – Stigma: 0 – My Battle with Mental Illness at Home and in the Workplace

I was diagnosed with a mental illness at 29 years old, but the greatest challenge I faced wasn’t the illness itself. It is was the suffocating stigma that came with it.

I am speaking of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness, and the lack of empathy and understanding that follows – and that’s at best. At worst, blatant discrimination is the result. Stigma is inappropriate, unnecessary and offensive. But, unlike mental illness, we have the power to overcome stigma.

Mental illness can be treated – but stigma can be cured.

I came to this realization through the unique experience of being diagnosed with both a major physical illness and a mental illness. The former was a rare nerve defect in my heart that began causing symptoms at 9 years old, and ultimately lead to open-heart surgery at 12 years old. During the entire experience I was overwhelmed with support, love – and a complete lack of stigma. Who would look at a young boy with a heart problem and think his character was in question? Or ask him to just “try harder” or “get more exercise”?

The latter was bipolar disorder, the symptoms of which began appearing in 2002 and progressively worsened until 2005, when I had a 6-day manic episode that resulted in a forced 2-week stay in psychiatric hospital. During those tumultuous three years, bipolar disorder nearly destroyed my life.

It was in comparing these two experiences, both personally and professionally, that I realized the destructive power of stigma, which is very prevalent with respect to mental illness and yet non-existent with other, more known illnesses.

The reality was that years after fixing one major organ with open-heart surgery, it appeared another, this time my brain, wasn’t working properly. Despite the similarities of the illnesses – in both cases, a major organ had a biological failure that created dramatic symptoms – there was nothing similar about the two experiences. First, there was the challenge of self-stigma, which was so strong that for nearly two years I refused treatment and actually tried to find my way back to health through the sheer force of will and determination (as though that was a viable option).

Stigma also reared its ugly head in a second, external way. This time it came in the form of confusion, discomfort, judgment and at times outright discrimination in the minds of those around me. This happened regularly, and not only with those in my professional life, but also those in my social life and family. It was jarring to realize that all of the support, unconditional love and empathy that came my way when my heart wasn’t working was nowhere to be seen now that my brain was failing.

After finally winning the battle against stigma, I began to treat my illness properly – as a medical illness that required my attention, research and, ultimately, treatment. This approach lead to a successful return to full health within 6 months of being hospitalized and diagnosed and, for the vast majority of the days since June, 2005, I have been living well, free of the worst symptoms of bipolar disorder. I work very hard to manage my illness and maintain my physical and mental health, and it isn’t always easy or perfect, but approaching my illness with zero stigma has helped immeasurably.

Once I fully ‘owned’ my illness, I realized I had the opportunity to help others by sharing my experience. Very few people have faced both a physical and mental illness, recovered, are willing to speak about it, and are effective public speakers. My degree in Theatre and Speech Communication provided the final ingredient.

So, in 2006, I started talking. From 2006 to 2015, I delivered over 40 keynotes as a volunteer on behalf of AMI QC, a Montreal-based organization that helps caregivers of those facing mental illness, and also provides outreach education. In 2015, after years of seeing the positive impact of sharing my message, I founded StigmaZero to work towards a future without stigma by helping employers eradicate stigma in their workplaces, so they can better manage mental illness as it arises in their workplace.

My message was, and still is, very clear: stigma continues to exist regarding mental illness because of fear and a lack of understanding. It may often be innocent, but it doesn’t belong, and education is the first step toward eradicating it. We should never again speak of mental illness in any other terms than what it is – an illness.

If you know someone who suffers from a mental illness (and statistics say that you probably do) or if you suffer from one yourself, be a part of the effort to end the stigma.

Stigma is something we have the power to cure.  Let’s get rid of it.

Jason Finucan

Founder, StigmaZero

Author of the book Jason: 1, Stigma: 0 – My battle with mental illness at home and in the workplace

Jason Finucan is a mental health advocate, stigma fighter, professional speaker, founder of StigmaZero and instructor of the programs found within The StigmaZero Online Training Academy.

Visit for more information, and to purchase the book.

Daddy Issues: My Story

“She has blue eyes.”

That was the first thing my blue-eyed father said about me when I was born. All babies have blue eyes at birth, but mine turned hazel. My dad never knew we had something much bigger in common: bipolar disorder.

My dad was unstable, moody and distant. He’d spend thousands of dollars on luxury goods, then lock himself in my parents’ bedroom for days. One day, he’d affectionately tease me until I giggled. The next day, he’d angrily snap at me for no reason. His outbursts terrified me. I exhausted myself trying to make sense of his actions, always taking them personally. I was the girl with daddy issues, which undiagnosed bipolar disorder made more complicated.

In elementary school, I was full of hyperactive energy. A teacher called me “Bigmouth,” and I often got in trouble for talking in class. In high school, I filled my schedule with extracurricular activities and social events, leaving barely enough time to do homework. In college—on top of a full load of classes and a job—I threw myself into activist groups and partied every night of the week. I drank too much, slept and ate too little. My thoughts raced from one thing to another. I swung back and forth at the mercy of my impulses. I jumped between relationships, apartments, jobs, and even sexual identities. I shoplifted and got arrested. I was on a speeding, runaway locomotive. I didn’t it know then, but I was hypo-manic.

In my senior year of college, my mom left my dad. He was hospitalized for attempting suicide. He washed and dried my mom’s work suits, shrinking them and hanging them back up on the same hangers. I imagined little doll-sized suits, wrinkled and mangled beyond recognition, my dad standing over them.

My dad died by suicide in 1998. I was numb for 4 years after his death until I finally crashed. I had my first major depressive episode. Completely unable to function, I took leave from work.

I saw therapists and psychiatrists. I tried mental illness medication. I struggled for chemical equilibrium in my brain, which was grueling, but I finally found a cocktail of medications that lowered the volume on my moods. I had a psychological evaluation, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was horrified to learn I had the disease that had killed my dad. A bipolar diagnosis felt like a death sentence.

In 2012, I was married to a controlling and verbally abusive man. He reeled me in by paying attention to me—something my dad never did. I made bad decisions with men because of my daddy issues, and that was the worst one. The stress of my marriage triggered my mental illness, and I was thrown into a mixed episode. I barely slept. I was agitated and irritable, and my racing mind catastrophized everything that went slightly awry. I was both hopelessly depressed and anxiously manic. After a nasty argument with my husband, I downed a bunch of meds. I thought I was cured. I was wrong.

I lost consciousness, and woke up strapped to a gurney in the emergency room. Having seizures for twenty-four hours, I was thrown in and out of consciousness. I pulled and kicked against my restraints as reality confronted me. I was then hospitalized at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Once I was released, I promised myself I’d never go back. A few months later, I left my abusive husband. I wouldn’t let my daddy issues overshadow my self-care again.

I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face in the emergency room.

I put her through the same experience my dad had, even though I knew better. That’s what bipolar disorder does. It makes you lose insight, narrowing your focus to a needlepoint, so everything and everyone gets lost in the periphery. As I began my recovery, I finally understood the gravity of my illness. Bipolar disorder can be fatal without proper management. What happened to my dad could happen to me.

By accepting my diagnosis, I’ve been able to make sense of my dad’s actions. His emotional distance and instability were neither my fault nor his. They were symptoms of the disease. My understanding of bipolar disorder released me from my crippling daddy issues by allowing me to forgive him. Ironically, the illness that took my dad away ended up bringing us together.

I’m both a survivor and an advocate. I’m currently writing a book, called Daddy Issues: A Memoir, about my experiences. I want to give hope to the millions of people who’ve been affected by bipolar disorder and suicide. I struggle all the time, but I set healthy limits and I reach out for help when I need it. I’ve gotten two bachelor’s degrees in English and graphic design.

National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” broadcast an interview with me, and my artwork has been shown in national and international art museums and a college art school textbook. I’ve been working in the film industry for over fourteen years. I have more than 33 movie and television credits to my name, as well as two Emmy nominations and an Art Director’s Guild Award. I also have a blog——where I share my experiences with bipolar disorder. Yet for all my professional achievements, I’m most proud of my recovery. It’s been my hardest-fought battle.

Someone once asked me if I would get rid of my bipolar disorder if I could. I would not. My past made me into someone I’m proud to be today. I’m living proof that a bipolar diagnosis is not a death sentence.

By: Carrie Cantwell – Blog: