AJ should have been successful, but he wasn’t. “When I was nine or 10, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). That led to other diagnoses: generalized anxiety and depression.
Growing up, I was in the gifted program at school, but I got into shouting matches with my teachers. Things like that happened a lot. Teachers were constantly telling me to leave. Eventually, I did — I’m a high school dropout. I pretty much stopped going to school in Grade 10.
My first job was working at a fast food restaurant, where they viewed me as difficult because I wouldn’t take out the trash. My refusal to take out the trash was because of my OCD, which was germ-related and was very bad at that time. I would shower up to four times a day. I had little social life, which really hindered my growth as a person.
The OCD also made it difficult for me to get along with my family. I really love my parents. They helped me to find different doctors, but I felt like no one was listening to me. My depression was so bad that it manifested as suicidal thoughts. By the time I was 18, it was way too much for me. I had no money. I had no education. I ended up leaving home. I would stay in the hospital for a 72-hour hold, or I’d go to a homeless shelter. I didn’t want to go home.
Eventually, I was connected with a social worker through a program that’s supported by United Way. The social worker helped me get provincial disability support and access a range of services, including counselling, housing, peer support and skill development that made me feel more hopeful about my future.
I no longer feel like a burden on society.” – AJ
There are many individuals like AJ living in Saskatoon who suffer from mental health issues which negatively affect their personal relationships, ability to work and often their physical health. Sadly, 1 in 5 Canadians live with a mental illness and by the year 2020 depression will be the leading cause of disease in Canada. With the commonality and growth of these staggering statistics more services need to become available to help individuals and their families.
Last year, United Way of Saskatoon and Area supported mental health first aid training for 457 individuals helping to increase their confidence and ability to provide support to others with mental health problems.
Through a transition employment program funded by United Way 82 people in Saskatoon living with mental health issues were able to build relationships, regain a sense of purpose and build their employment record through a reputable employer.
It is because of United Way’s support and donors like Ken who have overcome uncertainty themselves and choose to show their local love by giving back, that people like AJ are no longer ignorable.