Many Canadians have suffered mental health challenges due to the stress and isolation brought on by the pandemic. For some, it has even led to suicidal thoughts. But Operation Lifesaver (OL) wants those who are struggling to know that help is only a phone call away.
OL’s Today is Better campaign consists of 13 poignant and hopeful videos (eight English and five French) featuring the personal stories of Canadians who’ve experienced suicidal thoughts, but found help. Ana Van Den Hurk-Cooke is one of those survivors.
The young woman has struggled with depression most of her life, and anxiety since she was 15. But Ana is proof that life can get better—if you ask for help. Here’s part of her story:
When did you realize that your mental health was an issue?
Not until I was about 17, when I finally reached out for help. At that point, I'd been suicidal for a year or so before I realized that I was actually struggling with something. But I'd say now I can look back, and my first memory of really struggling was probably when I was eight or nine. I was already having suicidal thoughts then, which is shocking.
Can you remember what was going through your mind and what those feelings felt like?
I was feeling really hopeless and lost. I was really scared, and felt very alone. For the first 18 years of my life, I never said a positive thing towards myself—ever. I knew I was smart because I did well in school, but all of the thoughts I had towards myself came from external validation. They didn't come from me internally. It was a lot of hatred towards myself for years, especially in grade eleven and twelve. I was super abusive towards myself, where I would say the cruelest things I could think of in order to put myself down.
How do you feel about yourself now compared to how you felt then?
I just feel enough. I don't feel like I have to change for anybody. For about three years now, I’ve felt love towards myself and shown compassion and empathy and all those great qualities that everybody deserves.
What kind of help have you had to get where you are now?
I have an amazing family and they were a huge support throughout my life. But I would say reaching out for therapy, that really helped. I know some people find a therapist and they click right away. But I’ve had many therapists, and even though all of them were okay, it wasn't until two years ago that I found the therapist that I have now. Now, I have the support and help that I really need to do the hard work and to really work on bettering myself.
What kind of difference has having a therapist made for you?
It's like I always have a person to fall back on, to bounce ideas off of, who, on those days when I struggle to show compassion towards myself, can remind me of the importance of this. I'm a person that likes to get somewhere quickly; and with therapy, it's a slow progression. And only now, after two years, am I starting to see the actual results. I'm starting to feel “enough.” I don't have to change to fit the people around me just because I'm naturally very much a people-pleaser. I'm learning to prioritize myself.
What would you say to a young person, like you, who might be thinking about suicide?
Life gets better. And I will be the first to acknowledge that life is really hard. Sometimes getting out of bed is hard. Sometimes doing very basic things is very challenging for me. So, I just would want them to know that life can get better, even though things are hard right now.
If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, a trained responder is ready to listen. Call 1-833-456-4566 (Canada) or 1-866-APPELLE (Quebec), anytime day or night. And to hear stories of real people who’ve reached out for help, visit todayisbetter.ca.