‘Awareness is key’: Advocate and client Susan Kilbride Roper says reducing stigma is vital to helping more people reach out for mental health support

Susan Kilbride Roper is an advocate and client for NSHA's mental health and addictions services
Susan Kilbride Roper is an advocate and client for NSHA's mental health and addictions services (NSHA).

For Nova Scotia Health Authority’s mental health and addictions staff, Susan Kilbride Roper is a well-known name.

Roper co-owns The Empowerment Connection, co-manages the Patient Rights Advisor Service of Nova Scotia and ROLE (Revaluing Our Lived Experienced), and is a client of NSHA’s Mood Disorders Program.

Roper is a mental health advocate who started volunteering the day after she was diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar disorder. On the day of that diagnosis, she asked herself, “what do I do now?"

Her psychiatrist advised her to learn more about her mental illness and join a peer support group.

It wasn’t long after she first joined the support group for people living with bipolar disorder that she started leading it. “There is nothing like meeting others who share a common diagnosis to feel like you are not alone.”

Roper is also passionate about raising awareness of how addiction and mental illness can co-occur.

“Sixty percent of people living with a mental illness also live with a concurrent disorder of addiction, as I once did, when I lived with an addiction to alcohol,” she said. “I want to try to bring some awareness to the public about how the two are linked and both need to be addressed at the same time.”
 
Roper and The Empowerment Connection were integral to strategic planning sessions held in 2005 and 2006 by mental health and addictions program the Healthy Minds Cooperative. In this effort, many people from Halifax Regional Municipality communities were invited to provide feedback and advice, while also learning about service changes to mental health and addictions services.

“I remember this huge room filled with clinicians and administrators and family members and those of us with lived experience,” she said. “It was really wonderful that the health authority recognized the value of persons with lived experience and their family members being involved at the strategic planning level.”

Since those strategic planning sessions, Roper has been invited to participate in other mental health and addictions committees.

“It’s very empowering for people to care about your opinion,” she said. “To be told that your opinion matters is tremendously empowering and to discover that you can be part of the change and the growth of the mental health and addictions program is a powerful, powerful thing.”

Roper’s lived experience includes being both an inpatient and outpatient for bipolar disorder treatment. In fact, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments were an integral part of her recovery from life-long depression.

That’s why she’s so passionate about fighting the stigma that keeps people from taking advantage of this underused therapy and accessing other forms of treatment.

“What I want to stress for mental health week is that awareness is key,” she said. 

“Awareness of what mental health and mental wellness actually mean. That’s what drives me to help where I can.

“All of the undiagnosed people who are afraid to seek help and all the self- and societal-stigma which prevents people from understanding mental illness needs so much work. It is so, so important for the public to come to events and learn and understand.”

For Mental Health Week, she's looking forward to the Rock for Mental Health at Montes Showbar and Grill in Dartmouth on Friday night and the 6th annual Defeat Depression Walk, which starts at Victoria Park at 9 a.m. on Saturday.