Memories of the day Sarah Mantha’s world turned upside down come only in fragments.
It was her 26th birthday and a turning point in her life, because it was the day she was admitted to the Langley Memorial Hospital psychiatric ward.
Sarah was at church that day and fellow parishioners quickly realized she wasn’t doing well.
“I apparently had a psychotic episode and I was shifting through hypomania and depressive episodes throughout the day,” Sarah said.
At the ward, where she stayed for a month, Sarah was diagnosed as bipolar.
And so began Sarah’s journey not to recovery, since there isn’t a tangible cure, but to understanding the bipolar disorder and depression she has lived with since she was 14 years old.
Sarah is among the tens of thousands of Canadians who live with mental health issues.
The Canadian Mental Health Association notes that in any given year, one in five people in Canada will deal with a mental health problem or illness; roughly eight per cent of adults will suffer from major depression at some time in their lives; and about one per cent of Canadians (that’s nearly 363,000 people) will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”).
Sarah isn’t hiding her challenges with mental health. Quite the opposite.
She is a Peer Support Worker (PSW) through the Communitas Supportive Care Society, which provides support toward recovery through group learning, workshops, and one-on-one support from a staff member who has personal experience with mental illness.
“With peer support work, I support other people who deal with mental health challenges,” Sarah said. “I get to share my journey and my experience with them.”
She opened up to the Times about a journey that spans two-and-a-half decades, to help promote Bell Let’s Talk Day 2018, happening today (Wednesday, Jan. 31). It’s a day when the public is urged to join the Canadian conversation — one that is leading the world in confronting the stigma around mental illness, while sharing ideas to move mental health awareness forward.
Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health programs for each of these interactions on Jan. 31:
Text and talk: Every text message, mobile and long distance call made by Bell Canada, Bell Aliant and, new this year, Bell MTS customers in Manitoba
Twitter: Every tweet using #BellLetsTalk and Bell Let’s Talk Day video view;
Facebook: Every view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video at Facebook.com/BellLetsTalk and use of the Bell Let’s Talk frame;
Instagram: Every Bell Let’s Talk Day video view;
Snapchat: Every use of the Bell Let’s Talk geofilter and video view.
Crying for Help
Sarah believes hitting rock bottom that day was “a good thing,” because she had been crying out for help and not getting it.
She was immediately put on medication to treat her bipolar condition and at LMH, started learning how to deal with her bipolar illness, and not solely depression on its own.
“There’s two types of bipolar,” Sarah explained.
“There’s one where you go into periods of mania that are higher highs, and more extreme lows.
“Thankfully, I have bipolar II, which is hypomania, so it’s not so (many) extreme highs.”
Started as a Teen
Sarah has been in and out of the hospital with depression since she was a teen growing up in Moose Jaw, Sask. She managed to go off her medications for three years while she did missions work, post-graduation.
At the time, Sarah thought she had put depression behind her.
But not long after Sarah moved west to Langley to attend university, those familiar feelings of fatigue and hopelessness reoccurred. By the end of her third year of university, her doctor suggested she have some blood work done.
If the blood tests came back negative, he told Sarah, he believed that she was dealing with depression again.
This threw Sarah for a loop.
“I didn’t expect that,” Sarah said.
“That was really a big blow for me because I thought I was fine — been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and I was out of it. Life was good; I was doing well in university, I was working part time… but as I look back at it now, it was kind of a recipe for disaster because I was doing all that stuff and I didn’t have a big social circle around me so I didn’t have a lot of support.”
She was away from her family, living alone in a new province, and knew very few people. As an older student, she missed the connection she would have had with peers in her age group.
“When you have mental health issues that are billowing under the surface … those things can add up and you need to be getting out and doing things and seeing things,” Sarah said.
“There has to be a good balance of life and I didn’t have that.”
Sarah’s health continued to deteriorate, leading to the incident in church.
Eleven years later, 37-year-old Sarah lives with a roommate who has provided terrific support. Her social network is wider than ever before with friends who help her deal with the peaks and valleys that come with living with mental illness.
She continues to lean on her faith as a devout Christian.
“I remember sitting in my psychiatrist’s office and him saying to me, ‘Life can be whole again. You cannot have this illness take control of you like it has been.’ And I asked him, ‘When is that going to happen?’” Sarah said.
“He said to me, ‘it’s not like you have a broken wrist. I can’t take an X-ray of your brain and tell you how you are recovering. It’s always going to be there so you have to go through it, day-by-day.’”
Sarah said the road she travels with mental health is an endless one.
“Recovery is a journey,” she said, “not a destination.”