How I Took My Mental Health Awareness And Created A Space For My Community
Community Spotlight Aug 30, 2020
Growing up Jessie Brar knew that she had something that needed to be addressed. But she didn’t know what it was. She just knew that things were just not adding up for her. It wasn’t until hearing a presentation where two South Asian men spoke about their own mental health issues, the related symptoms and how the South Asian culture doesn’t allow for open discussions about such issues, it all made sense for her. She took her awareness and moved forward determining to create a safe space for youth who are also going through their own mental health awareness. This is her story.
I had always struggled with my mental health, but in silence. it wasn’t for a lack of care or understanding from my mom, but just simply because we didn’t know what mental health was. I studied psychology and in my classes I would read about different disorders and then recognize those symptoms in myself. I turned to many unhealthy habits to try and cope with the realization that I had a mental illness.
I struggled for many years. The turning point for me came when I attended a presentation where two young South Asian males spoke about their mental health. They talked about their struggles with substance use in their first year, and how their culture didn’t make room for conversations like this and how that affected their mind. Then, they talked about how they found healing — that they were doing better. I remember sitting there and thinking ‘if they can do it, maybe I can too’.
That’s where my journey to recovery really started. I started a search to find a way to cope with my mental illness, but it wasn’t an easy road. No one tells you how to heal. In fact, just as our minds are unique, our healing processes are too. I researched and I tried everything I could, learning along the way.
I began to volunteer at a youth mental health charity where I gave mental health presentations to high school and post-secondary students across Canada. Each year, they held a conference where they brought together over 100 mental health advocates from around the country to talk about how we can create change. At my first conference, the theme was creating change in your community. I thought long and hard about what my community was. We’re apart of so many. However, for me, the one community that kept flashing in my head was young first generation South Asian Canadians. The kids who were too brown for the white kids and too white for the brown kids. The in-betweeners.
I thought back to the impact those 2 young men had made on me in university. Seeing someone who looked like you and understood you open up gave you the permission you needed to do the same. With this in mind, I created The Mental Health Spotlight. The Mental Health Spotlight was a safe space that shared stories about mental health from South Asians around the world. I started by sharing my story and invited others to the same. Over the course of 3 years, from March 2017 to March 2020, we shared over 200 stories on our Instagram page and created a community that transcended any boundaries and helped break some of the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health in the South Asian community.
After sharing my story on my page, I was invited to share it at conferences around the world. I traveled internationally, and even got the chance to speak to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate, about the importance of mental health. I took what I thought was the worst thing about me and turned it into my biggest strength.
Now, I’m sharing all the knowledge I’ve gained throughout the years of working in the mental health industry and my personal experiences on my Instagram page, @jessieebrar, and through my new podcast, Presents of Mind.
To anyone who may be struggling with their mental health — you are not beyond hope. There is always a resource available or someone who cares. You are not alone.
Main Image Photo Credit: @_kishanmistry
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