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Students given lesson about mental illness ...Jessica Bruhn tells her story, shatters myths
By Lindsay Kines,
Times Colonist, Victoria and Vancouver Island News
April 20, 2012


Jessica Bruhn wasted no time getting to the point.

Standing before a packed theatre at Spectrum Community School Thursday, she asked students to identify stereotypes of people with mental illness.

"What do people think of when they think of someone who's mentally ill?" she said.

"They're not exactly very bright," came an answer.

"They're insane."

"They can't function."

"They're not independent."

"Has anybody here met anyone with a mental illness before?" Bruhn asked.

Hands shot up around the room.

"Cool," she said. "Well, you're meeting another one today."

Bruhn, 25, then set about dispelling myths and stereotypes by detailing her own childhood struggles with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and Tourette syndrome.

The Simon Fraser University graduate did not need to say she had overcome those conditions. Her poise and confidence on stage spoke for her.

"Most of the time it's not the symptoms of the disorder that's really tough to deal with, it's the stigma around it, the judgments," she said in an interview.

"Stigma is that thing that prevents people from getting help."

It's also the reason she devotes so much of her young life to public speaking and telling her story. She talks at two or three schools a month, on her own, or as part of her efforts on behalf of FORCE Society for Kids' Mental Health, the Lowdown Speakers Bureau and numerous other agencies.

Bruhn, a youth mental health worker, believes it might have eased her own tortured childhood if someone had spoken to one of her school classes.

"I think if I had seen or heard somebody that was so candid, and they explained to me that it isn't part of who I am, it's just something that many people have that's treatable and manageable, then I probably wouldn't have felt so alone and so worthless," she said.

Often, after one of her talks, Bruhn said she is approached by students struggling with similar issues. One girl at a Lower Mainland school came up to her in tears. "[She] was saying 'I have this, too. I can't stop thinking about these terrible things and I always thought there was something horribly wrong with me - But now I understand that it's not me, it's something I need to deal with. I'm just like you and I believe that I can get better now.' "

Spectrum teacher Johnathon Berry, who arranged Bruhn's visit, said her story has the power to educate young people about issues they may know nothing about. But it can also give hope to young people struggling with similar issues.

Berry and Bruhn encouraged students to go to the website to learn more and get help. The site is a joint effort by B.C. government and community agencies, including Canucks for Kids Fund and the RBC Children's Mental Health Project.

Bruhn said she hopes that one day mental illness will be treated the same way as physical ailments. Students, she said, need to know that such problems are common, treatable and possible to overcome.

She offers herself as proof.
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