The stigma of mental illness cost Laurie Pinard everything.
She lost her career, car, money and house because she was so afraid to admit she needed help. The former Parliament Hill staff member struggled for years with dramatic high and low emotional changes. But it wasn’t until her early forties that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“I was terrified of telling people my story,” Pinard told Power Play Monday. “Due to the stigma and because I didn’t reach out for help, in 2009 I completely fell, buckled… I lost everything.”
Pinard is just one of many Canadians who will suffer from mental health issues this year. She is hoping to change that as she spreads her message across the country for Mental Illness Awareness Week.

The annual national public education campaign aims to teach Canadians about the reality of mental illness. Established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, it is now co-ordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health.

“I was so afraid to tell people,” Pinard said.

While Pinard acknowledges there are resources available to people struggling with mental illness, she said you have to be strong enough to actively find them.

Pinard was able to draw herself out of rock bottom by seeking help in the form of psychiatry, nutritional supplements, mental health courses and exercise. She finally decided to share her story in 2011.

“We really need education on everyone’s part: government, employers and employees,” she said. “I had to learn how to live a completely different life.”

Pinard is one of the five “Faces of Mental Illness” chosen for 2012, for its tenth year. Other faces include Dustin Garron, founder of The Mental Health Project for Youth, and Sandra Yuen MacKay, an artist and author who suffers from schizoaffective disorder. Chantal Poitras, a current volunteer at Partners for Mental Health and Alicia Raimundo, public speaker and youth mental health advocate from Pickering, Ont., are the other two representatives.

“Our Faces represent the importance of proper diagnosis and access to effective mental health services for recovery from mental illness. We are grateful to them for allowing their courageous stories to inspire millions of Canadians,” said Dr. Karen Cohen, Chair of Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012 in a statement.

According to Cohen, one in five Canadians experience a mental illness in a given year.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada made a series of recommendations in early May regarding access to mental health care. The commission recommended that nine per cent of the country’s health dollars go towards aiding mental illness, up from seven per cent.

According to the report, mental health problems cost the Canadian economy at least $50 billion a year in health care costs, of which a third is attributed to lost productivity.

It is also estimated that at least 500,000 Canadians miss work because of a myriad of psychiatric issues every week, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

These “faces” of mental illness will also meet with members of parliament for breakfast on Parliament Hill to discuss the need for mental health services for all Canadians on Tuesday.