Over the last 15 years, Alicia Raimundo has become intimately familiar with Canada’s mental health care system, as well as the community discourse surrounding mental health and its treatment. Their journey — one that began as a pre-teen living with untreated depression — is marked by struggle: fear of judgement, hospitalization, and fighting for proper care. However, this is not the way Alicia intends for their story to end.
Today, at 29 years old, Alicia works for B.C.-based Foundry, an organization forging a new, province-wide culture of care through the development of a network of centres and e-health services. The organization aims to fill the gaps in Canada’s mental health system that often lead to a lack of understanding, long wait times to receive treatment, and many individuals slipping through the cracks, all of which Alicia has experienced first hand.
As a young person, Alicia was innately aware that their lived experience differed from their peers. “I was sad when other people were happy; I was anxious when other people were excited,” Alicia explains. “I was having different emotional reactions to things than my friends were. I knew something was different about me, but I didn’t know what or why.”
Coming from a traditional Portuguese family, Alicia found it nearly impossible to communicate the depth of their depression. “I thought: my mom is a beautiful, strong woman who helped raise her brothers and sisters. My dad is a war veteran. And I can’t get out of bed in the morning. How do I tell these people who work 80 hour weeks that regardless of their sacrifice, I can’t get out of bed?”
“How do I tell these people who work 80 hour weeks that regardless of their sacrifice, I can’t get out of bed?”
This lack of communication and the frequent judgement Alicia experienced — from family members recommending they simply exercise and pray more, to a teacher who once referred to them as the ‘crazy girl’ — culminated in unbearable pain.
“I felt like a failure, a burden, and that everyone would be better off without me,” they explain. At just 13 years old, Alicia attempted suicide.
While hospitalized, Alicia met a woman who shared her own struggles with mental illness. “She said, ‘From one crazy person to another, here’s a message of hope’ and gifted me a necklace emblazoned with the word ‘hope.’ This motivated me to give living another chance.”
Even with this new, positive outlook, Alicia had to wait another eight years before they began receiving proper treatment. During this period, Alicia relied heavily on online sources, such as Kids Help Phone Facebook forums, for support and guidance. “The mental health system frowns upon these spaces because they’re not ‘evidence based,’ but at the time, they were all I had.”
Today, online resources like Talkspace, Hasu, and 7Cups that offer online, lower-cost counselling, text therapy, and forums are servicing hundreds of thousands of individuals struggling with mood disorders. These services are more easily accessible than traditional care channels, reducing or eliminating cost, time, and location barriers the often prevent folks from seeking care.
“When people with mental illness are suffering to the point of asking for support, they don’t have a lot of energy.” Alicia explains. “To then have to find extra energy to make the system take care of you is really hard.”
“I realized that if anyone had a problem with what I was going through, it was more of a ‘them’ problem than a ‘me’ problem.”
Alicia fought for years to be properly supported through traditional health care channels. Providers were siloed, and the lack of communication between mental and physical health care professionals meant it was on Alicia’s shoulders to repeatedly explain their situation. “Having to explain everything twice to health care providers was frustrating,” Alicia says. “Physical health care providers would even challenge what my mental health care professionals were doing. I’d be on a medication and my GP would question it. It felt like a constant fight between my providers.”
Over time, with a TEDx Talk and a UN speaking engagement under their belt, Alicia has grown into an articulate and comfortable communicator. But that wasn’t always the case. Hearing other people’s similar experiences finally convinced Alicia that it was safe to share their own story. “I realized that if anyone had a problem with what I was going through, it was more of a ‘them’ problem than a ‘me’ problem.”
Foundry B.C., the organization Alicia works for, is an online resource hub for youth and young adults with mental illnesses, directing them to services, apps, and tools that can support them when they don’t know where else to turn.
This is part of Dot Health’s #HealthStories series, where we highlight individuals from across Canada and their experience with the healthcare system in Canada as a patient, caregiver, or advocate.
Dot Health is a Toronto-based digital health company that believes health information belongs in the hands of its owner: you. Through our web andmobile app, we empower Canadians to own and control their health data, from clinics, hospitals, labs, and pharmacies.