Yellowknife mom puts a face on mental illness, talks to middle-schoolers

22-year-old Jessy-Anne Jimenez is open about contemplating suicide. She's speaking to students at Yellowknife schools in order to stop the stigma of mental illness.

'I had a paper and pen ready to write my suicide note,' said Jessy-Anne Jimenez

22-year-old Jessy-Anne Jimenez and her son Haven-Michael Betsina in Yellowknife. Jimenez wants people struggling with mental illness to know they are not alone. (CBC)

A 22-year-old Yellowknife woman who's open about having contemplated suicide says the stigma of mental illness is still making it difficult for people in the North to seek help.

Jessy-Anne Jimenez is a northern speaker with the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services' Talking About Mental Illness program. It's a five lesson program designed for schools to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

"The Grade 8s learn about a course on mental illness," Jimenez said.

"We basically say our story at the end and put a face on what they have learned."

Jimenez said she hit rock bottom in 2011 when her father left her and her mother. She had a bad gut feeling when she opened the door of her home to find her mother crying. She calls her father's choice to leave a stab to the heart. Jimenez fell into a depression and came within a note of killing herself.

"I had a paper and pen ready to write my suicide note," said Jimenez.

"I didn't know how I was going to go about it... I was just ready."

'Thought about how my mom would feel'

Jimenez found sanctuary in family and friends, and from posting her thoughts on Youtube and Facebook. In her darkest moments she thought of how her mother would react to her death.

"I stopped and really thought about how my mom would feel when she would read that note," she said.

"I am glad I didn't go though with it because I wouldn't have experienced the best days of my life, like having my little boy, graduating, and talking to middle schools."

'I am glad I didn't go though with it because I wouldn't have experienced the best days of my life,' says Jessy-Anne Jimenez. (CBC)

Jimenez said being depressed and dealing with anxiety made it incredibly hard to do the little things. So she built herself back up slowly by setting small goals, like brushing her teeth and combing her hair.

"The biggest goal was for me to graduate. And I did," Jimenez said.

"After that, I was like, I am going to say my story more openly and to change peoples lives somehow in the North. And I am."

Wanted to share her story

Jimenez approached CBC to share her story because she said people in similar situations need to know they're not alone.

She hopes more public awareness of mental illness can stop negative perceptions, which can stop people from getting help.

"The first step to seek help is so hard to do. And it is even harder to do when you are feeling judged," Jimenez said.

"Which is why I came out to talk about mental illness, even though there are multiple outlets to get help."

Last year the N.W.T. government offered the Talking About Mental Illness program in Fort Resolution, Inuvik, and four schools in Yellowknife. It's looking to train more northern speakers to take part in the program. 

Jimenez hopes she'll get to travel outside of Yellowknife to share her story with students in the territory's smaller communities.