This fall, we decided to do things a little differently: instead of producing a new collection alone, we joined forces with a number of mental health organizations in Canada & the US to roll out a Collab Collection. Each organization will be featured with co-designed shirts that give back specifically to their initiatives.
Break the Silence, End the Stigma is a local movement that has already empowered thousands of university students across Canada to speak up about mental illness. We sat down with their founders, Cassaundra Henske and Stephanie Morton, to learn more:
WYL: Tell us a bit more about yourselves. How did you meet?
Stephanie: Cassaundra and I met in high school and grew up alongside each other in Montreal (Quebec). After high school, I moved to Wolfville, Nova Scotia to attend Acadia University. Two years later, Cassaundra did the same. I am now pursuing my second degree at Dalhousie Schulich School of Law and Cassaundra is in Psychology.
Cassaundra: During our spare time we began to build Break the Silence, End the Stigma. We started in April 2014, with the goal to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and to create communities of peer support. Our key campaign phrase is “I live with mental illness, but it does not define me”. The idea is that everyone lives with mental illness, because even if you are not personally affected by it, you probably know someone who is (so it is still very much in your life).
Stephanie: We believe that the key to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness is to come together by sharing our stories and offering peer support. That's what we're doing with our organization.
WYL: Can you share a bit more about your own stories?
Cassaundra: We both live with mental illness, but in different ways. I live with chronic depression and anxiety and have many family members who do as well. When I was 14, I struggled with suicidal thoughts and approached Stephanie for help. Stephanie decided to tell my family in order to get me the help I needed, which ultimately saved my life. We have been supporting each other since, and strongly believe in the power of peer support because we have seen how much it can help. Recovery is an ongoing process , but sharing my story and connecting with others has helped me immensely. We both believe that talking about mental illness and mental health saves lives.
Stephanie: Even though I don't personally have mental illness, I'm still affected because I have close loved ones that live with mental illness, so it is very much in my life. We often forget that the family and loved ones of those living with mental illness are also affected and that they may need support too. Cass and I’s story really brought us together and fuelled our desire to make a change.
WYL: How have you been affected by stigma?
Stephanie: Stigma is one of the greatest barriers surrounding mental illness. I've seen the powerful effect of stigma first hand and how it affects my loved ones. I've watched as they were ostracized and shunned during periods of mental instability, only to be treated normally once these periods passed.
Cassaundra: I've also watched so many loved ones struggle with mental illness and mental health issues in silence due to stigma. That's the reason we began Break the Silence, End the Stigma. In my own experience, one of the most powerful and threatening stigmas is self-stigma because it can often go unnoticed. Self-stigma happens when you isolate yourself and place blame on yourself at times of instability. An important part of understanding the stigma is trying to unlearn everything that it makes us believe to be true about mental illness.
WYL: Do you have any words of advice or positivity for someone who might be experiencing a rough time right now, with mental illness or facing stigma?
Cassaundra: It is so important to remember that recovery is possible. Be patient with yourself and take the time to get to know your triggers and to figure out what calms you down, what works for you. Exercise, peer support, healthy eating, and taking the time to do things that you enjoy are all crucial parts of recovery. Diabetics, for example, need to follow certain procedures to stay healthy, and mental illness, just like any other illness, is no exception. Everyone lives with something, but that that does mean that it has to define them. Your illness is a part of you, but you are so so much more <3
Stephanie: Remember that you are not alone, despite what you may tell yourself. Someone, somewhere, understands and there is support for you.