April 3 was my come out date; I ousted myself, stepped out from the mental health closet that I'd hidden in my entire life. Like many people, my first struggles with mental health came quite early. I've spent the last 20 years obsessed with death, my heart and soul sinking in guilt, guilt of being alive, unable to sleep, in constant struggle with life itself. Over the last five years, I've lost close friends and people I loved because of this disease. I had to do it for them. Today, my community also continues to suffer because mental health is a taboo in the African community.
As a society, we've grossly underestimated this epidemic, we've stayed silent for far too long and ignored the suffering of those around us. The mental health commission of Canada reports that one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness, with a cost to the countries economy of well in excess of $50 billion. That only "one in three people who experience a mental health problem or illness -- and as few as one in four children or youth -- report that they have sought and received services and treatment." Even more alarming, the commission's study indicates "Of the 4,000 Canadians who die every year as a result of suicide, most were confronting a mental health problem or illness."
Since I started speaking out, sharing my story with family and friends, with the local community, I've noticed that like any other disease, mental health does not discriminate; it attacks the rich, the poor; people from all works of life are victims. Another crucial lesson I've learned is that although mental health is a heavy and personal matter that comes with a lot of stigma, talking about it is like finally being able to breathe! It lifts a huge weight off your shoulders and you are able to live again.
Below you'll find the story of Sarah May Taylor, a beautiful soul, a friend and a compassionate young Canadian who is using her love and passion for photography to fight this epidemic through a project called "the crazy project."
Sarah May Taylor
I've spent the last five months working on The Crazy Project, a photo project raising awareness about mental health in Canada.
I grew up surrounded by a lot of mental illness that was either, never talked about, or shamed into silence. My mother suffered from schizophrenia, and her mother from diagnosed mental health issues. There is also a lot of addiction present on both sides of my family, and there's been several suicide attempts.
Losing my mother two years ago sent me through my own significant bouts of depression and anxiety. Through these struggles I have realized that life is too short not to spend it doing what you love, and it's too short not to understand our responsibilities to each other. Although I have been a mental health advocate for years, I felt that it was time to do something more to get people talking. The project has also been a way to process the grief, anger, and guilt I felt about losing my mother to an illness I never really understood, and a system that continues to fail millions of Canadians every year. The more I learn, the more I realize there is a lot that needs to change.
I hope this project encourages people to ask more questions of themselves and of their communities. I hope it helps people see that telling your story, and honouring yourself through that process is one of the bravest things we can do. It could never make you weak.
Suicide is the #1 cause of non-accidental death amongst young people in our country. We're losing our loved ones to mental health issues -- the conversation isn't big enough. If you had a broken leg, no one would criticize you for taking time to heal, but if you're dealing with depression, anxiety or bipolar? Well, something must be wrong with you.
I've been replacing the term "mental illness" with the term "mental health" so much recently because I really want to shift the conversation away from the negative. The reality is that being mentally healthy isn't a natural default for everyone, because everyone is different. We all have different stories and come through different experiences. For me, mental health means feeling balanced and grounded enough so that when you are forced to weather the storms in your life, you are able to cope. It means being able to experience the full range of human emotions in a healthy way. Our mental health dictates our emotional health, and even our physical health. It's everything.
The Crazy Project is up for the month of May at Capital Esspresso in Toronto. At the show opening we played the musical piece composed by Steve Neville of The Balconies. It includes raw audio from some of the interviews I conducted during the project. The effect in haunting and very beautiful, I urge you to listen.
I should mention that not everyone who has participated in the project identifies as a mental-illness sufferer. Each experience is unique.
The point is that everyone has a story, what's yours?
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: