New program targets mental illness

Professional athletes, while seemingly larger-than-life figures, are not immune to mental illness. Canadian golfer Andrew Jensen knows this firsthand.

Professional athletes, while seemingly larger-than-life figures, are not immune to mental illness.

Canadian golfer Andrew Jensen knows this firsthand. He struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his life, and had attempted suicide three times by the age of 27.

Now 31, he’s an ambassador for the Bell Let’s Talk initiative, a program designed to break the silence around mental illness.

Jensen was in Whitehorse this week to take part in a funding announcement for the launch of the Living Life to the Full program.

The interactive program, offered for the first time in the territories, is designed to give people the right tools to deal with their addictions, obsessions and phobias.

“It’s about knowing how your mind is working and what makes you have addictions or obsessions,” said Juliette Anglehart-Zedda, a certified counsellor and program director with the Mental Health Association of Yukon.

“Identifying what’s going on, what my tools are, and what’s in the way of making my goals happen. The fact is I’m there as a facilitator, not there to do therapy with people.”

The program is an eight-session, 12-hour course delivered in small groups and moderated by a facilitator.

Participants aren’t expected to “empty their bags,” Anglehart-Zedda said, but rather to educate themselves about the tools available to manage their daily challenges.

Each session addresses a new topic such as understanding your mood or improving your self-esteem.

Nine booklets accompany the course, with titles such as “Why does everything go so wrong?” and “The things you do that mess you up.”

Ray Wells, chair of the association, said it’s a course that is beneficial to everyone, regardless of whether they’re struggling with a mental illness.

“This is also for people who have friends or who are caregivers for people with mental illnesses. The more we share our personal experiences in public, the more it will reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and move this cause forward.”

The Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund, Yukon government, Yukon’s Community Development Fund and Northwestel collectively contributed $85,000 for the program.

The association will pilot the program for a year and offer it around the territory, as well.

“After that, we’ll work to make it a permanent program offered throughout the territory,” Wells said.

Jensen said he knows how beneficial programs like these can be. Reaching out for help isn’t easy, but it’s one of the first steps towards healing.

As a teenager, he fell into depression but wasn’t aware of it.

“I thought it was teenage angst – I was overweight, I couldn’t get a girlfriend and I hated my parents,” he said.

“I attempted to take my life when I was 16, but I thought it was a phase that I’d grow out of.”

Things temporarily improved for Jensen, who turned pro at the age of 23. But a doctor he had around that time recognized the symptoms and suggested Jensen might be depressed.

“I dismissed it right away,” he said.

It wasn’t until he was 27 and finding himself in high stress, high pressure situations that things took a turn for the worse.

He was hospitalized after attempting to take his life twice in a short amount of time.

“That was 11 years removed, so I felt like an alcoholic thinking about a drink again.”

That’s when he reached out to his girlfriend and talked about his issues for the first time.

He enlisted the help of a good therapist and found the right medication for him, but it took a while.

“It’s a bit of trial and error, but the community is a big part of my recovery,” he said.

“Meditation has helped immensely, too. It’s a very holistic process, which stems from a desire to be healthy.

“The shame isn’t there anymore – this is who I am.”

More information about the local Living Life to the Full program can be obtained by calling 867-668-6429 or by emailing mhayukon2015@gmail.com.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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