Sharing stories of hope: Karla Williams
Many Canadians’ mental health has suffered due to the stress and isolation of the pandemic. For some, it has even led to suicidal thoughts and feelings In fact, a recent survey found that 1 in 20 Canadians has experienced thoughts of suicide as a result of the pandemic. But Operation Lifesaver (OL) wants people to know that help is only a phone call away—and it’s trying to get that message across through its new suicide-prevention public-awareness campaign.
The Today is Better campaign consists of 11 poignant and hopeful videos (six English and five French) featuring the personal stories of Canadians who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, but found help. Karla Williams is one of those survivors. The Halifax woman has struggled with depression since she was 12 and has bipolar II disorder. She was sexually abused as a child and started thinking about suicide when she was a teenager. But Karla is proof that life can get better—if you ask for help. Here’s part of her story:
Why do you think you started to have suicidal thoughts when you were just a teenager?
When you're abused, you carry a lot of shame, especially when you're young. So I couldn't shake that. And being a teenage girl is hard enough, all on its own, because you're going through so many hormonal changes. But I just couldn't shake the shame and the guilt of what had happened. I just wanted to stop it. For me, it was generally an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Not loneliness. Aloneness, right? It's not that I'm lonely, but I feel like I'm alone. Nobody understands me, nobody cares.
What difference did finding help make for you personally?
I was almost 30 when I finally found a therapist. And finding a therapist was good because I finally had somebody who I could unload to, who I knew couldn't go around and tell anybody else what I had said, so I could be completely unguarded. It meant I had that support, someone who could give me tools to manage the thoughts or to talk myself down and to self-soothe. If you don't have the tools to do it, you can never climb out of the hole.
Although it took my therapist four years to convince me to get medicated. But then my mom got diagnosed with lung cancer, and I promptly went to my therapist and said, "I'll take that medication now" because I couldn't handle any more stress. Medication and support went hand-in-hand for me.
Where do you think you'd be today if you hadn’t reached out?
I'd be dead. If it wasn't for my therapist and my medication, I'd be dead. I would not have survived my mother's death.
What would you say to someone who is at the point you were at, who is struggling but hasn't reached out for help?
Fight. I'd say, “Ask for help.” Because what depression does for a lot of people is that your mind tricks you. Your mind wants to ask for help, but it keeps your mouth silent, right? So it won't allow you to say the words that you know you need to say. And you have to learn to fight through that and swallow the shame. They don't want people to know they're different. They don't want people to know they're struggling. But if people don't know you're struggling, you'll never get help. If you don't get help, you're not going to make it.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, a trained responder is ready to listen. Call the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566, anytime day or night. And to hear stories of real people who’ve reached out for help, visit todayisbetter.ca.