Fighting the stigma of mental illness, a mother’s journey to inspire hope

You Matter Care Bags are all put together for distribution.
You Matter Care Bags are all put together for distribution.

“I am not ashamed of how my son died,” said Jodi Myles of Antigonish.

Myles makes that statement with conviction, but also sadness. She knows there are so many others who aren’t in the safe space to be able to make a similar statement about loved ones who succumbed to their mental health illness. 

“We are working to destroy stigma related to these very real, sometimes fatal, diseases that ended our loved ones’ lives,” she said. “We cannot bring them back, but we can attempt to change the outcome for others feeling lost and alone. We can advocate for change.”

Myles lost her son, Jordon, when he took his own life in February 2016. He was a well-known and well-liked local artist in Antigonish. His death was difficult for the entire community.

“We faced it with as much strength and courage as we could muster, and determined to tell the truth about his very real illness and the horrible stigma that still surrounds these illnesses and, particularly, suicide.”

In the time since Jordon’s death, Myles and her family have found many ways to cope. Primarily, they’ve poured time, love and energy into The Jordon Myles Foundation, established to raise awareness about the importance of mental wellness and to reduce stigma by encouraging people to speak out and help where they can.

Through the Foundation, Myles has tapped into a community of love and support. Recently, the Foundation held its second Warr;or Walk. That “;” represents the unfinished, as in the work is unfinished. During the event, Myles said participants speak openly about mental illness and pay tribute to loved ones they have lost with honorariums along a hiking trail. The event was even more successful than last year, with participants raising $4,000 in donations.

Myles said the community continues to be amazing, with people reaching out wanting to help. Donations go primarily to the You Matter Care Bags initiative Myles started, which she hopes gives comfort and encouragement to people in hospital struggling with mental health illness.

“The You Matter Care Bags were our first initiative and they have been distributed to each person admitted as an inpatient in mental health and addictions services at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital since December 2016,” Myles said.

The bags contain personal essentials often forgotten when patients are admitted. Small items such as a blanket, socks, a colouring book and personal hygiene products make a big impact. Each bag also contains a handwritten note of encouragement.

Dr. Stephanie Teasdale, a child youth and family psychologist at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, said the initiative is well received by patients, family and staff.

“As a child/adolescent clinician, I have had several clients share that they felt the bags were very comforting, positive, and helpful during and after their inpatient stays,” Dr. Teasdale said. “More specifically, one adolescent client indicated that the bag and its contents gave him hope and reminded him that the community does care.”

Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Mental Health and Addictions staff at St. Martha’s and The Jordon Myles Foundation are teaming up on a new project – a community-generated wellness colouring book that will be free for clients and community members to use to help reduce stress and anxiety and add to overall health and wellness.

“We hope to have lots of local entries and to be able to use these in our bags, and in areas such as waiting rooms and community resource centres,” Myles said.

Entries from all ages are encouraged and can be submitted to: Child, Youth, Family Program, Mental Health and Addictions, St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, 25 Bay Street, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, B2G 2G5. Entries can also be emailed to thejordonmylesfoundation@gmail.com. All submissions will be entered to win a gift certificate. Deadline is November 30, 2017.

If you need help now, the Mental Health Crisis Line operates 24 hours, seven days a week. Call toll-free: 1-888-429-8167