Kennedy Baker has been on the dark side of mental illness, and if she had one message for Whistler Secondary School students on Tuesday (Oct. 8), it was to speak up, reach out and trust that things will get better.
Baker was a special speaker brought in by Whistler Secondary to mark Mental Illness Awareness Week, which runs from Oct. 6 to 12. It was only a few years ago that she was in high school and the troubles began.
"A few years ago, the world crashed around me," she said. "I found out that my estranged father has passed away, my mom had been sexually assaulted, I found lumps in my breasts and when I was walking down the street a man in a car pulled a gun on me," she said. "The world became a scary place for me, and the stress took its toll physically and mentally."
That was in 2010. She began to lose weight and in 2011she was admitted to BC Children's Hospital weighing just 90 pounds. She was held for three months, and diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
When she returned to school she was called the "Crazy Mental Girl" and bullied. She had her phone stolen and broken, her locker was vandalized, and she no longer felt comfortable around her peers.
Rather than allowing school to bring her down again, she started to look outside and found a local soup kitchen in Nanaimo called the 7-10 Club, which serves 80,000 people a year. She began to volunteer, and soon created a non-profit to raise money for the 7-10 Club. She also connected with its clients, many of whom were battling mental illnesses of thier own.
"Working there, I was able to break down the stereotypes," she said. "These people weren't that different… they were just suffering from mental illness."
Getting rid of the stigma, and silence, around mental illness said Biker is the first step to helping people get better.
Baker now looks back at mental illness as something she was able to beat with the help of her family, and by finding courage to talk about it and ask for help. "I feel like I've been given the strength to trust myself again,' she said.
Bev Oakley, the principal at Whistler Secondary, said it was an important assembly, especially in light of the one-year anniversary of bullied lower mainland teen Amanda Todd taking her own life. Todd produced a YouTube video that went viral to explain her situation, and her death became international news. She's now an international symbol in the fight against bullying.
"What we're targeting right now is anxiety," she said. "We're finding that 30 per cent of school-age children actually suffer from some sort of anxiety… and anxiety can flow into depression, which is how we ended up with in that terrible outcome for Amanda.
"Kennedy Baker's story is about facing anxiety and PTSD, and how she coped with it and came out the other end."