Making a Mental Health Impact: The Importance of Support
Our mental health is perhaps our most personal concern, yet it’s also one of the strongest motivators for community-building.
For those who speak publicly about mental health, their words are informed by their backgrounds, and those backgrounds vary widely. Yet there’s a common thread: support networks play a key role in mental health no matter what our backgrounds are. They offer us support, guidance, and a chance to share what we learn.
For Caroline Boudreaux of Louisiana, whose Miracle Foundation has been running for 20 years as an international network of support for orphaned children, building a broader community is a crucial aspect of her work. She emphasizes a need to concern ourselves with “OPCs” (other people’s children).
“I believe in radical generosity,” Boudreaux says. She tries to reach out to at least one person per day, because “If everybody lifts, the burden is easier.”
With that in mind, she adds, “every single person needs to be doing their part to give back”. For Boudreaux, this means giving someone the choice to reach out, or not, and listening when they do, as well as remembering that privilege plays a role in what resources are available and why some people are especially in need of help.
Boudreaux sees plenty of work to do in the future, but she remains determined.
“Who am I to say that it’s ‘too hard’ to help somebody else?”, she says. “I’ve been blessed, and this is just one of the ways I say ‘thank you.’”
For Claudia Fernandez-Niedzielski of Sacramento, California, a Real Estate Sales Consultant, Personal Development Coach, and author of a 30-story anthology, Women Who Rise as well as a contributing author to Women Who Illuminate, lived experience with bipolar disorder has been a motivator to offer guidance and encouragement to others.
Like Boudreaux, Fernandez-Niedzielski emphasizes that you can’t force help on someone, but you can and should let them know you’re there and you will be receptive. Being part of a support network, she says, means “voicing awareness, not telling someone what to do.” In her experience, her family simply letting her know they’re watching for signs she may be unwell has been a key source of support.
“My husband has become one of the greatest support systems I can have, [as well as] friends I know very well,” she says.
“If everybody lifts, the burden is easier.” – Caroline Boudreaux
Also like Boudreaux, Niedzielski highlights how mental health is a personal but shared struggle.
She is grateful for the role of professional support as part of that personal support network, noting the role of a doctor and psychiatrist in offering advice and guiding her through medical treatments. Niedzielski does not hold back in crediting both her family and her doctor working in tandem with helping to find treatments that help.
We need to understand, she says, how to approach behaviour not as “abnormal” but as “unhealthy,” because the latter is non-judgmental and encourages those living with mental illness to seek help.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all those around me,” she says when speaking of a months-long hospitalization.
“It is so critical to have somebody give you that poke in the shoulder and say ‘Hey, are you okay?’…to get you to a place where you not only survive, but thrive.”
For Italian-Canadian singer-songwriter Alessandro Montelli, who grew up in Italy and later moved to Ontario, having a support system in place has also been key to building his career. It began with his parents helping him learn and book gigs at small venues, and has since shifted to collaborating with Karizma Humanity and other local artists in Toronto.
Montelli says even where there’s more openness, there’s still some stigma in the music industry in particular, and occasionally pressure from others to ‘get a real job’. But he does not regret pursuing his passion, as its been a key therapeutic outlet for negative feelings as well as an expression of positive aspirations.
“It is so critical to have somebody give you that poke in the shoulder and say ‘Hey, are you okay?’…to get you to a place where you not only survive, but thrive.” – Claudia Niedzielski
Citing Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, who passed away to suicide in 2017, as a main source of inspiration, Montelli says mental health struggles are not always visible when we don’t open up.
“They don’t always show it, but you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind. Either you live with it by yourself, or you have to reach out.”
Making the move from Vaughan to Toronto, and collaborating with Karizma Humanity on the track “One Race”, is one big step for Montelli in reaching out. He’s also pushed himself to “busk”, performing on public streets to connect with people and seek opportunities.
“I definitely see personal growth since moving,” Montelli says. “I was able to acknowledge issues and talk to people.”
For Pearly Pouponneau, host of The Diatribe Podcast which she started three years ago, sharing her lived experience with a community has been central to an ongoing healing process.
“Through this platform and these connections, I realized that there are so many ways to destigmatize and address this issue,” Pouponneau says.
“You can enjoy the process of healing.”
Quebec-born and raised by a Punjabi-Malaysian family, Pouponneau acknowledges the work that still needs to be done in and for the cultural community into which she was born, saying “There’s not even a word in Punjabi, truthfully, for mental health.”
“You never know what’s going on in someone’s mind…you have to reach out.” – Alessandro Montelli
Cultural stigma and the pressures of adapting to unfamiliar experiences have, in her parents’ experience, led to mental health challenges and a response to them which Pouponneau says she has learned from.
“I was always a very curious child,” she says. “It allowed me to, in my adult years, understand my family a bit better…With my four-year-old daughter, I can say, ‘It may have been like this for me, but I’m not going to make it like this for you.”
She speaks of mental health advocacy and personal healing as a lifelong process, and encourages others to find what drives them through that process.
“Embrace the idea that this is a ‘forever journey’.” – Pearly Pouponneau
Much of the self-care Pouponneau does is deeply personal and introspective, in a personal “sanctuary”, or a physical space in which she can privately reflect in an audio diary. Yet this space for self-validation and the tools she has are there in part because of a family which supports what she does. Pouponneau says it’s essential to watch who you include in your support network.
“If you’re going to reach out to somebody, make sure they’re emotionally available and trustworthy.”
One key piece of advice from Pouponneau: “Don’t wait for the day you wake up and feel better. Embrace the idea that this is a ‘forever journey’.”
For each of these speakers, and for everyone who has tuned in or will tune in for them, this is undoubtedly true, and a major reason why it will continue to be important to reach out together.
About Reach Out Together
Reach Out Together is a registered Canadian not-for-profit organization empowering people to improve their mental health, break stigma, and work toward recovery through educational and interactive programs and events. Reach Out Together has hosted outreach events across the world, from Toronto to Mumbai. Its vision for them is to make Reach Out Together the largest global network of mental health advocates.