Mental illness dialogue needed, says Jan Wong

A former Globe and Mail reporter, lecturing this week in Fredericton, says she wants to start a national dialogue about depression and mental illness after battling with her own demons.

Former Globe and Mail writer lectures on her battle with depression and mental illness

Jan Wong has self-published her new memoir, Out of the Blue, a Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and, Yes, Happiness. (Timothy Neesam/CBC)

A former Globe and Mail reporter, lecturing this week in Fredericton, says she wants to start a national dialogue about depression and mental illness after battling with her own demons.  

Jan Wong, who once focused her penetrating questions on celebrities with her column "Lunch with...", has self-published her new book called Out of the Blue: A Memoir of Workplace Depression, Recovery, Redemption and Yes, Happiness.

In the book, Wong examines her own spiral into depression after comments she made in a column about racial purity in Quebec sparked outrage following the Dawson College shooting.  

She said the stress from the event caused her to sink into a clinical depression.  

"So there was a big backlash, I was condemned by Parliament, unanimously," said Wong. "Stephen Harper wrote a letter, Premier Jean Charest wrote a letter, I got death threats, I got hate mail, really terrible racist, sexist hate mail — and I started to fall apart, but I didn't really understand."  

She said, despite her own personal discomfort, she felt compelled to tell people about her experience with mental illness.  

"I wanted the end result to be starting a conversation, a national conversation on mental illness and depression because it affects so many people, it affects every one in five or six Canadians in their lifetimes and twice as many women as men," said Wong.  

"There's so much stigma and shame around mental illness and depression and I felt it was my moral responsibility, as a journalist, to shed light on this."   

Wong's new memoir Out of the Blue chronicles her own road to recovery, but also looks closely at workplace depression.

She said one of the biggest hurdles she encountered while taking the time to deal with her illness was that she said her workplace did not support her.  

"The real problem for me was my newspaper didn't really believe me. They started to give me a deadline of when I had to be back at work," she said.  

"I wasn't better at six weeks so when that happened, the Globe and Mail actually stopped my sick pay, which was financially a huge problem, but the bigger problem for me was that they were questioning my integrity. They were essentially saying. 'You're a liar, you're not sick, get back to work.'"  

Wong now teaches in the journalism school at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.   

She will be giving a public lecture Wednesday at 7 p.m. in STU's Kinsella Auditorium.