Nfld. & Labrador

Standing up to stigma: 2 Lab West women start mental health support group

Two women in Labrador West started a peer-to-peer mental health support group where people can talk openly about their struggles.

They saw a need and wanted to break the silence in a region they saw struggling

Karla Lambert and Megan Philpott have started a peer-to-peer mental health support group in Labrador West. (Submitted)

Two Labrador west women are standing up to the stigma around mental health issues, and inviting other people to talk in a peer-to-peer support group.

Karla Lambert and Megan Philpott came together to build a comfortable community for people to open up about their struggles.

"I myself suffer, or deal with, mental illness," Lambert said.

Her own experiences with depression and anxiety inspired her to reach out to others who have the same challenges.

"There was a moment that I had that I felt so alone, like I had nobody despite being surrounded by family and friends," she said.

Lambert wanted to give back to the community, to invite people to talk about what they're going through.

The value of lived experience

There are professional mental health services available in Labrador West, but Lambert said there's also value in talking with people who can directly relate to your experiences on a personal level.

"I've accessed the mental health and addictions department here in Labrador West and as great as they are I've often left wondering, do they really understand what I'm dealing with?" she said.

While those services can provide tools and information, the two women said they feel like it's still a struggle for others to understand how they are feeling.

"Having a support group of people who deal with mental illness, depression, anxiety or what have you, you know that they do," she said.

I didn't feel any kind of embarrassment or shame; it was just a part of who I was.- Megan Philpott

Philpott also has that lived experience. She has struggled with depression and anxiety since 2001, and has been affected by mental health issues in her family since the 1990s. 

She was already looking to start a group like this when Lambert connected with her.

"My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1992," Philpott said.

"The way my family handled it was to speak openly about it from the time that my mom was diagnosed, so I felt like when we moved here I already felt comfortable with speaking about it."

Philpott wanted to pass that level of comfort on to others and invite them to open up about their own struggles.

"I didn't feel any kind of embarrassment or shame; it was just a part of who I was," she said.  

"This is kind of my calling. I'm OK with being the spokesperson for this. I'm OK with being the leader for this because I'm OK with what I struggle with."

Breaking the silence

The two women describe struggling with mental illness as no different than struggling with diabetes or cardiac issues — except for the stigma attached.

"Will we as a support group change that stigma? No, we're not going to change it overnight, but it's going to help," Lambert said.

After several suicides and a visible need for outreach and support in the Labrador West region, eight people attended their first support group meeting.

"I didn't want to keep silent about it anymore," Philpott said.

"If it saves one person, we've done what we came to do."

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