Nick Petrella is a professor at Mohawk College in Hamilton in the health, wellness and fitness program. He makes sure that mental health is taught in all his courses and by sharing his own story, many students have opened up to share their stories.
“He lived with mental illness for most of his life and so did I, ” said health, wellness and fitness student Amanda Cuttress. “I never spoke about it until I met him and talked to him.”
Since starting his recovery more than four years ago, Petrella is now a trained mental health first aid leader. He speaks to post-secondary students and staff on topics related to mental health and is the co-founder of the peer-to-peer initiative at Mohawk College called Mental Health in Motion.
“I really believe that although I speak to as many people that will listen, it’s therapeutic to me,” said Petrella. “It helps me to get that empowering feeling that I’m helping other people.”
A huge source of comfort to Petrella over the years have been his three dogs. He now brings them on a regular basis to school to visit with the students.
“It really changes people’s mood for the entire day and we hear it from students over and over again that we’ve changed the outlook of their week,” said Petrella.
“He not only advocates around the school but he advocates in the community,” said health, wellness and fitness student Danielle Petendra. “He really just sheds light on the fact that it’s OK to have a mental illness and it’s okay to talk about it.”
“If we can start to change how we view the illness because it’s truly just an illness in the brain just like cancer is an illness in the body or diabetes is a chemical imbalance in the body and try to understand what their experience is like, we’ll have a much better understanding of the illness and that’s part of breaking down the stigma,” said Petrella.