Kelowna mom who lost her daughter fights for end to mental health stigma

KELOWNA – Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent.

It happened two years ago to Michelle Evans, a Kelowna mother. Now, it’s her mission to help youth who suffer from mental health issues like her daughter did.

“My goal now is to take mental health out of the darkness. Let’s remove the stigma around mental health, let’s make it more comfortable where parents can ask questions,” she says.

March 11, 2013 is a day Evans will never forget. Her daughter Kassy took her own life at the age of 18.

“My daughter suffered with anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia,” says Evans.

Evans says she was a healthy, happy girl until about the age of 11, when she started to develop obsessive compulsive disorder.

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“If you notice in [some] picture[s] we are smiling, but I am not touching her,” says Evans.

Kassy became very sensitive to germs, but it quickly escalated.

“I remember her sitting on the floor just chanting and chanting and she was naked and just kept drawing these crazy eights,” says Evans.

Eventually Kassy’s mental health became worse, progressing to an eating disorder.

“[It was a picture from] my daughter’s fifteenth birthday,” explained Evans. “She looked at herself and did not like her physical image.”
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Evans and her then husband tried everything to get their daughter the help she needed, seeing several specialists and even taking her to the United States for care. She says it would only help temporarily, and there weren’t enough resources available.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says the mental health system is lacking funding.

“The mental health care burden is really 15 per cent of the health care burden in Canada and that includes addiction but it only receives about 5 per cent funding and so what we see is long wait times,” says Amanda Swoboda, Corrdinator of Community Education for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna.

That lack of resources is why Evans’ good friend, Harry Holman, a young entrepreneur from Summerland, is trying to help people, especially youth, who have mental health issues.

“All my life as far back as I can remember, I’ve had mental health issues,” says Holman. “I have obsessive compulsive disorder, I remember doing checks and my number for whatever reason has to add up to 30 for many things that I do.”

He says the hardest thing for him has been trying to talk about it.

“I have all of my friends and family, they know what I’ve gone through but no one likes to bring it up,” says Holman.

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Through an online company he recently launched called Free Mind Apparel Co, Holman isn’t just encouraging people to buy clothing that reflects positive messages, but creating a place for anyone to find support.

“It’s also a forum that anybody can talk to anybody about their mental wellness,” explains Holman.

By allowing people to share one story at a time, they’re hoping to help support the mental health of youth by taking the stigma away from the conversation. Kelowna mayor Colin Basran recently signed a proclamation dubbing May 7 as Child and Youth Mental Health Awareness Day.

A few other websites you can find mental health resources are:

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