5 high-profile Canadian celebs who chose to #getloud about mental illness

The loudest Canadian voices spoke up for mental health, this is what they had to say

The loudest Canadian voices spoke up for mental health, this is what they had to say

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The ups and downs of mental health struggles have oft been likened to a roller coaster ride. But it's a weak analogy. First off, rollercoasters are fun. For my money, I think a rickety-railed trainwreck is more apropos. Mostly, you're just praying for a stretch of stable track or trying to enjoy coasting when it comes. But the toughest part about the ride, whether you're quietly stressed about derailing or already lying among the wreckage, is a strong suspicion that you probably shouldn't talk about the crash.

That's changing, thank Christ, which makes crashes (and hanging on) more manageable. If you're less religious, you can also thank national initiatives like The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)'s Mental Health Week. It's on right now, from May 1 to 7th, surprisingly for the 66th year in a row - it's taken awhile to get heard. Fittingly, the hashtag for the week is #GETLOUD. On that subject, we can also thank high-profile influencers who are lending their voices to the 20% of Canadians who will experience mental illness personally at some point in their lifetime.

That the loudest voices in Canada are opening up the conversation about mental health isn't just worth celebrating, it's worth a thoughtful listen. And it's not all stogy and grave. In typical Canadian fashion, humour often sets the tone when these celebs talk mental health: 

Kelly Oxford

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Hilarious social media maven, author and screenwriter, Oxford was recently candid with Tom Power on CBC's Q about her diagnosis with panic disorder. It's something she quips about in her recent book, When You Find Out The World Is Against You: And Other Funny Memories About Awful Moments. But she's also been shameless about her struggles on social media, hoping to normalize the conversation around tough (and not unrelated) topics like mental health and surviving sexual assault in public forums like Twitter.

"Saying I'm messed up and having people go 'yeah I know, um, I know you're messed up, it's pretty obvious' feels a lot easier than thinking 'oh I'm messed up' to myself and worrying that people are going to catch on because I think that everybody is messed up to a degree, to a large degree. And I think that not discussing it causes the anxiety to build in a dramatic way."

Her recent book title notwithstanding, Oxford says that sharing is a way of finally seeing that the world really isn't against you after all. Proof of that solidarity is exemplified perfectly here in Power's IG post where he thanks Oxford for living out loud.

Jim Carrey

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One of the funniest Canadian humans to ever walk the face of the earth, Carrey has been open about needing anti-depressants to navigate some rough low times. "I was on Prozac for a long time. It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realized that, you know, everything's just OK," he told 60 Minutes in 2004.

He now manages himself by being hyper-mindful about what he puts in his body. He's says he's "very serious about no alcohol, no drugs." He even rarely drinks coffee.

Carrey admits that spirituality now plays a big role in finding some peace but he refuses to pretend he's struggle free. When pegged as someone who "is a bundle of conflicting emotions", Carrey shamelessly asserts that that's precisely where he's chosen to be. "I only act in the movies", he adds.


Leonard Cohen

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The late legend of musical melancholia, Leonard Cohen, once talked about depressive episodes that drove him to substance abuse in the 60's. Eventually, he too turned to spirituality. "It made me turn to drink, it pushed me to drugs, and it lead me to Zen..."

Cohen has since shared that depression was lifelong family issue, his mother suffered from the illness. Along with recreational drugs in his youth, he's also tried a barrage of anti-depressants (he lists Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Ritalin, and Focalin) later in life. Managing the illness in desperation he admits floundering to find peace:   

"You know, drugs, women, art, religion… you try everything … . Well, you know, there's depression and depression. What I mean by depression in my own case is that depression isn't just the blues. It's not just like I've a hangover for the weekend… the girl didn't show up or something like that, it isn't that. I'm trying to describe clinically like an acute depression. It's not really depression, it's a kind of mental violence which stops you from functioning properly from one moment to the next."

Cohen admits to suffering through resistant-treatment depression for 5 decades. Eventually, he says relief came in a less self-reflective form. Oddly, he learned to ignore himself. 'When you stop thinking about yourself all the time, a certain sense of repose overtakes you.'

Howie Mandel

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Last year in Montreal, Howie Mandel gave a characteristically funny but earnest talk about OCD and ADHD at an event called Family Matters. Though he's been vocal about his mental health struggles with both illnesses before, the appearance set a precedent in that his son, Alex, joined him on stage. Framing the discussion of mental health around family was important for him. There is a genetic predisposition to most mental health problems and friends and family are the most affected by secondary fall out from all illnesses.

Mandel was clear, "the reason I agreed to do this event was because we're going to talk about mental health as far as it pertains to a family and relationships." His son, a successful vlogger in his own right, also suffers from OCD.

Mandel admits that his condition is something of a constant but so is healthy self-management. "My OCD is not any better than it's ever been but I am under control and I'm medicated. I'm fine and I'm functioning."  The comic icon takes his illness in stride recognizing that we all have a "cross to bear". He also stresses the mental health mindfulness isn't just for the sick.  "You don't have to have OCD, depression or anxiety to recognize the importance of mental health. We are all affected and we all need to find the coping skills to be the most productive, happy people we can be."

I felt like I was on some schooner in the middle of a white squall the whole time. It just never stopped- Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds

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Sarcastic wit and mega-star, Reynolds recently told GQ that he suffered a "little bit of a nervous breakdown" after filming the superhero blockbuster, Deadpool. He says that while he's well aware of his privileged position as a celebrity, it didn't save him from having to face an anxiety disorder. The pressure to perform and deliver on what everybody hoped was going to be a successful franchise was immense. The first incarnation of Deadpool, also portrayed by Reynolds, was something of a fanboy flop.

He says the pressure of that performance anxiety was isolating and constant. "I felt like I was on some schooner in the middle of a white squall the whole time. It just never stopped". 

Professional pressure is not an uncommon trigger for mental health issues but Reynolds didn't recognize the problem at first. "When it finally ended, I had a little bit of a nervous breakdown. I literally had the shakes. I went to go see a doctor because I felt like I was suffering from a neurological problem or something. And every doctor I saw said, 'You have anxiety.'"

As visible people get more vocal, the consequence is a kind of welcome momentum in Canada. There seems to be no shortage of calls to action. Canadian journalist Michael Landsberg heads up an advocacy movement called #sicknotweak that champions a no-shame approach to mental well-being, the RCMP is rolling out much needed mental health initiatives in their camp, and Prime Minister Trudeau has aligned himself and Canada with Mental Health Week. Getting heard is getting easier, no matter how loud your voice.

For more on getting the right help or just getting informed, check out the CMHA's page. And don't hesitate to stand up and #GETLOUD this week for yourself or for those you love who are struggling.