Talking about mental health in Asian communities.

Happy to have been able to work with such a strong organization in blogging about my experience with being diagnosed with depression. I became acquainted with Mind while living in the UK to pursue my Master’s and finally had a chance to figure out a way I could help contribute to their cause in ensuring  everyone experiencing a problem gets both support & respect that they need.

This has been a project that had been in the works for a few months and i’m finally happy to share the result of having such a supportive organization help to share my story. I’m also incredibly humbled from the support I have received over the years in sharing my journey and to be fortunate to have helped others begin theirs.

While I have been fortunate to have the support of my family through my journey, I recognize that this is a prevalent issue amongst the Asian community in terms of stigma and the lack of support in terms of talking about  mental health. Hopefully by contributing to the conversation I can help other young people, especially minorities, find the courage and support they need to navigate and access an often complex mental health care system.



Read more “Talking about mental health in Asian communities.”

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018.

With the disruption from the college strike, my life was in a bit of a disarray.  I was also feeling a bit depressed during the holidays and I caught myself in those moods and found ways to adjust my coping strategies.

I’ve been pretty fortunate in people being able to turn to me in times of distress and i’m happy to have helped a few people work on their mental health over the past couple months. I know for many people opening up about their struggles with depression and anxiety can be tough, but I have always and will always be there to support anyone in need and I have a number of resources to direct people to. I think I will therefore make a goal for 2018 to to take part in Mental Health First Aid and be able to offer support to those around me.

I must say, the final exams I wrote so far for last term were highly discouraging. I know I am not alone when I say that, but regardless it does take a pretty big hit to your self-worth as a student when you write exams that are seemingly much harder than what you were prepared for. I must say, despite writing some pretty awful exams (and I mean 60s) I still managed to pass last term with and am surprised I even managed to pull off a B in pharmacology.

I’m moreso proud of myself for successfully passing my first clinical rotation. There aren’t any words to really describe your first clinical experience except you feel lost, confused, and like you don’t know anything especially when given your very first solo patient assignment. Let alone when patients are looking at you and watching what you’re doing and nurses are talking to you about your treatment plan. I was given some pretty challenging cases by my preceptor (generally not given to second years) but managed to pull it together and learn quite a bit. Losing out on 5 weeks of a strike in the big picture isn’t a lot, but in the moment it felt worse than it was. Having so many disruptions really takes a toll on my groups (and other classmates) ability to practice our skills and discover and address our learning gaps. However, i’m incredibly proud of the people I had in my group for creating a supportive environment for all of us to grow and success and pass our rotation.

Over the term I grew not only as a student nurse but as an advocate for my patients. I’m grateful for my experience pursuing my Master’s and believe that it’s really helped me to gain a better understanding of my patients as a whole and seemingly it was evident in post-conference talks and the work I turned in. It was even more rewarding to sit down with my tutor for my final evaluation and be recognized for the issues I brought up and the work I put into helping the rest of my group. I feel empowered and encouraged to continue on the path i’m on and to know others have recognized my passion for making a difference in not only healthcare but within my community. I’m grateful to have had such a supportive tutor to guide me through the term and firmly believe that in time I will help change the face of nursing in the role of policy advising to the top levels of government even when it was hard for me to gauge where I was at.

While my next rotation in general medicine will help me build my foundational skills, it still sucks that I lost out on such a great opportunity being in a chest unit. I know in time these rotations help us figure out where we want to do our final consolidations, but i’ll be even more excited (if things go well this term) to get into peds and maternal units.

I must say with this terrible bone-chilling cold weather I am excited to head back to England in a couple weeks to see some good friends and walk across the stage to collect my degree. Hard work has slowly paid off and i’m even moreso excited to see where 2018 will take me in my nursing journey. Therefore, I think a second goal I have for 2018 is to get more involved in community and nursing advocacy through the RNAO, ONA, and CNA as a student member.

Hopefully i’ll get over this cold and actually start the new year on a fresh foot soon. I know it’s cold and flu season, so I remind everyone to practice that HAND HYGIENE.



I’m Depressed And Employed: How I Make It Work.

Since I was 15, I’ve been dealing with depression. I’m not talking about the blues, sadness, or simply the Mondays, but suffocating, full-blown depression—the kind that leaves you empty and hurting all at the same time.

Throughout early adulthood, I had to constantly force myself to go to high school, college, and eventually, a full-time job. But then at 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar and things got even more complicated, adding mania, anxiety, and rapid cycling to the mix of symptoms. It seemed impossible to be productive, and there have been countless days, weeks, and even months when I worried I would lose my job to the all-consuming force of my depression.

In 2013, MacMillan published Perfect Chaos, a memoir co-written by me and my mother, detailing my struggles with depression and her efforts to be there for me. Over the years, I’ve become an expert in my own symptoms and the hows and whys of leading a productive life under these conditions. And while the conversation is being brought further and further out of the dark with each person that decides to speak up, I’d like to offer up some practical advice that’s served me well, because here’s the thing, dear reader: In my many moments of debilitating depression, I have not once lost my job, nor even been reprimanded. Here’s how I make sure to take care of myself within the context of getting out of bed to go to work every day, even when it seems impossible:

1.     I create the quickest morning routine possible, one painful, brilliant step at a time. The night before, I take a shower and choose an outfit. One that makes me feel comfortable, smart, and capable—that just says, “Yes, that’s me, a total badass. I got this.” The next morning, I dress, apply mascara and a bright punch of lipstick, and then I leave. No time to climb back into my closet trying to find body acceptance in a state of morning confusion. Out the door in fifteen minutes flat. No excuses.

2.     Once I arrive at work,  it’s time to make a daily task list. Tasks in general feel utterly impossible when you are depressed. The word “task” makes you want to cry on your desk. But this is important: I ask myself what needs to get done and what I can get done. I break each overwhelming, essential task down to the smallest possible steps and write an in-depth to-do list. Then I only focus on that task. I don’t allow myself to look further down the list. Once I manage that first task, I force myself to do two things: proudly revel in my success and—this is crucial—take a five-minute break.

3.   Next—and this is the hard one—I decide if I need to inform my supervisor. Because depression is constantly recurring in my life, it’s important to let my supervisor know I have a chronic illness. On those days when I do call in, he knows it’s valid. This is also something that you can discuss with your HR manager. Your supervisor doesn’t need to know the gritty details of your struggles; they simply need to know that you are experiencing a health struggle and that you are doing your best to work to your highest ability. You may need to present a doctor’s note to HR, but management may surprise you and support you beyond your expectations.

4.     Lastly, at the end of that exhausting day, I do my best to prepare for the next day and attempt some exercise (those endorphins do help!). Most importantly, I celebrate my victory. When you are depressed, the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is celebrate each accomplishment. You got out of bed; I’m so proud of you! You ate food; you are killing it! You stayed at work for a whole eight hours; you are a superstar! Never stop praising these steps, and slowly but surely you will find your way back out of that hole into the productive light of day.

Reposted from:

The Times You Live In.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks to say the least. I’m grateful for having had the chance to get away for my reading week and take some time to focus on something other than school.

I guess I would say the past couple weeks have been filled with a lot of anxiety and recurrences of my depression. Coming back into school to find out half my courses are cancelled because of a provincial wide strike was a bit much. I pay to learn and I pay to gain experience but yet half my courses including my clinical have been shut down until an agreement has been reached between the two parties. It’s a pretty crappy feeling to not be able to do something you love. It’s even worse when you come across articles pointing out the strike will be ‘protracted’ and previous strike have been 3 weeks +.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because I have at least my science courses to focus on and i’m grateful for what the Faculty has done in moving our classes to off campus locations across the city. I also can still attend my community placement which is also always a treat. I think the more I work with kids, the more I enjoy what I do.

Aside from that I can finally say I have recovered from strep throat. I’m usually not one to go see a doctor but even that was rough, who would think a sore throat could cause THAT much misery over three days. It got to the point I realized ibuprofen, lozenges, and my throat spray were not doing anything that I decided I needed to make a visit to the doctor. After sitting in a lecture and half way through googling the nearest walk-in clinic because I had chills and was literally in the most pain i’d ever experienced. I have a lot of respect for people that get it often, it was terrible.

But obviously bad news comes in threes….lucky me. Last week also saw my first car accident happen. Physically I was okay but emotionally I was shaken (or ‘shook’ as the youngin’s say). It was an experience and it still gives me anxiety if I think to hard about it but it’d definitely a learning experience and luckily the car can be fixed and my health is okay. I would say i’ll be more on edge driving now and I choose to walk more to do things rather than drive, but in time my confidence will grow again for driving but for now it’ll be one step at a time.

Aside from that, life is moving forward and i’m just trying to focus on making it through this term. The past couple weeks i’ve found myself in a rut where i’m not feeling motivated but then stress myself out because I don’t feel motivated. A vicious cycle. I guess it’s exciting to think I may actually have a long Christmas break this year (permitted everything goes smoothly) finishing around mid-December. Hopefully will also hear some positive news in regards to the results of my Master’s dissertation in the coming weeks.  Hopefully the new year will see me heading to London to collect my degree and see some good friends :).



The Depression Mask.

The depression mask. What I would define as a defence mechanism because if you looked like you felt, no one would ever want to be around you.

Depression has levels that is hard for people who don’t have it to understand. It makes me angry when I come across comments calling people like Chester selfish. To me, it’s a suicide is a failure of society to protect individuals for for letting them down to feel like this was the only viable option. Depression IS a disease. Sometimes medication can help and sometimes they don’t similar to any other sickness. The difference with depression compared to other illnesses is people think it’s okay to say things like: ‘get over it’, ‘stop being stupid’, ‘this needs to stop’, or even ‘you’re just being lazy’.

Depression isn’t simply being “sad”. It’s more than that. It’s a feeling of worthlessness and that you’re a burden to everyone around you. The most toxic feeling with depression is the utter hopelessness that goes with it. Not only do you feel worthless, but you have no reason to believe that it will change. Everyone’s experience will also be different, some people can still be high functioning while others struggle to get about their daily tasks. I can say i’ve been in both situations. I wouldn’t be where I am without the hardwork I put in to be here but I’ve also had days where i’ve struggled to even get out of my bed and have the motivation to do anything because I feel empty, unmotivated, and worthless. Its a spectrum condition where the word does not define the symptoms, the individual does.

I think in my experience one of the worst things about having depression or going through a cycle is knowing you have so much to be thankful for and that there are so many people worse off. But that feeling of feeling nothing and just finding no joy in life is horrible and isolating. Instead you start to feel guilty for feeling pathetic and rather than burden people with your feelings, you lie and pretend you’re fine to get people to back off.

I think one of the most important things for people to remember is that suicide is a behaviour. Depression often drives a person to the point they want to die, but not all depressed people have self harming or suicidal tendencies. Some people who are not recognizably or clinically depressed will commit suicide or hurt themselves in a sudden moment of sadness. It’s a tragically complicated issue.

To the unknowing eye, he doesn’t look like someone suffering from depression and severe PTSD from the traumas he experiences growing up and navigating the industry. To the experienced eye though, his eyes say it all. Sometimes moments like these make it worse; you’ve had fun with the family, a few hours pass and you still feel it. Then guilt, shame, and hopelessness creep in. You think, “If I’m still depressed after having fun with the people I love, will I ever feel better?”. To be honest,  it’s not easy to seem “happy” around people. It actually hurts more when you’re lying to yourself trying not to seem upset. The human mind can only take so much torment, either from others, or itself. Those like Chester weren’t weak and should NEVER be labelled as such. It still makes me sick to think about how I let someone treat me as such in a moment of cowardice. If you’ve never been through depression you have NO idea how much mental strength it takes to hold on, especially after prolonged or traumatic events. 

It still makes me sad to realize he’s gone. There’s apart of me that still can’t believe it and I honestly can’t imagine what his family, friends, and bandmates must be going through. His legacy will not be forgotten, and while his loss is horribly tragic, I do believe it serves as a warning and example for all that mental health is not imagined. I think this video shared by his family serves to remind people that depression doesn’t look the same on every person or at every point in time. This was Chester’s depression.

At the end of the day we must support those who suffer, and awareness is the first step.

This is what depression looked like to us just 36 hrs b4 his death. He loved us SO much & we loved him. #fuckdepression

— Talinda Bennington (@TalindaB) September 16, 2017

RIP Chester.


Chapter Closed.

Ah, finally I can sit in peace and focus on writing a blog post. I can’t believe i’m already back in schools ready for round 2. Summer seems like a blur and it’s probably because of all the schooling and work I had to undertake to get caught up.

I’m proud to say i’m finished my Master’s (at least until Results day in November). All 14,998 words. I must say finishing my physiology course and having to jump straight into finishing my dissertation was a rough go. Why I thought it was a good idea to work 40-55 hours a week is beyond me, but somehow I did it. To but it into context, it took me 2 DAYS to sort through all the footnotes, citations, and bibliography and organize it all. While it’s now finished I have not yet had the courage to go back over and look at the hard copies I had printed out of fear knowing there will obviously be mistakes. While I realize work at the Master’s level does not have to be publishable, the perfectionist in me would go bonkers knowing it’s there. So to not throw myself in a downward spiral of total despair i’ve decided to withhold looking (plus i’m over writing it and thinking about it for the time being).

I think the one things i’m grateful for having done medical ethics as my Master’s is for the expansion in the way I think about things. To understand ethical decision making models and work through it. There’s no right or wrong answer in every case and going into clinical practice I know there will not always be things that line with my personal values. It’s how I can hopefully align those two differing values that will work to prevent increasing my own moral distress and prevent burn out. I also want to help my patients walk through difficult situations where things aren’t always clear and help them work through their own ethical dilemmas.

I must say while i’m excited for problem-based learning this year (largely because of it’s focus on ethics!), I am weary of pathophysiology, pharmacology, and bio-stats. It’s a bit hard to fathom how I made it knowing 30 people (our of a class of 120) were not able to move forward into second year because of failing courses by such a small margin in most cases (1-2%). I know I worked my butt off to be in the position I am, but at the end of the say all of us came into this program as highly intelligent individuals. I also knew when to ask for help when I was struggling whether seeing accommodation for my depression and anxiety, seeking out additional tutoring sessions to understand biochemistry, or even buying additional resources to bulk up my knowledge, but I also realize I was fortunate in having had previous undergraduate experience. In any program failure happens, but I think on some level it’s a wake up call to know that failure does happen and sometimes its not the smartest people that advance but those that put in the work, but its hard not to feel anxious when it is a reality.

I think of the thoughts that has been on my mind most recently have been the concepts brought up in the book ‘Lean In’. I’ve been thinking a lot about where my nursing journey will be taking me, particularly where my interests lie. I’ve found myself to always be interested in maternity, but lately due to my community placement i’ve really enjoyed working with kids. I know in my heart clinical nursing isn’t always something I will be passionate about, shift work can be incredibly draining and not conducive to raising a family, which is why I think clinical ethics will be one option I am eager to explore.

I want to make a difference. I want to lead. I want change. I want to succeed.  Those are my mantras in life. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how growing up as a female I’ve seen young males groomed to be in positions of leadership. Yet i’ve noticed females have always lagged behind. A clear example that comes to mine was having someone so close to me tell me he “could never be with someone that made more than him”. As in the male always had to be the bread winner, keep in mind this is the same person that felt emasculated having a female choose to not change her last name to his. To be honest, having read ‘Lean In’ I can say i’ve been put in a positions where I felt I could not advance myself because I was a female and had to ‘follow’ these societal norms that seem to exist.

Its incredibly distressing to see the number of female students pursuing post-secondary education but yet is not reflective of the board room. How as a female I am penalized for choosing to have children, even though in most cases its a decision made by both the male and the female and because of this I lose out on the same opportunities that would be extended to my male colleagues. To be fair, it’s also unfair that males are also looked down upon to take advantage of paternal leave to spend time with their children and raise them in an equal manner.

I think another thing that irks me is when people think that females are bossy for being assertive but when males act in the same manner they are seen as “leaders”. I’ve ALWAYS been ambitious and motivated to improve my self and make a difference at some level.  Yet, i’ve noticed sometimes people can find me intimidating because of a number of factors whether it was my upbringing, my education level, or even my goals for the future. On some level, I used to let that control me and it destroyed my self-esteem, making me question my values, goals, and self-worth. It’s taken time but slowly i’ve found myself returning back to normal and feeling excited about where the future will take me. I realize now RN positions in Ontario are limited, particularly in places I want to hopefully live, but I also know Canadian nurses are so highly regarded that the world is really my oyster and with so much to explore I sometimes find myself not knowing where to start.

I’m grateful to have had many great mentors along the way who have helped guide me down this path and shaped my goals for the future. It wasn’t until recently that i’ve reach back out to some of my most notable mentors and thanked them for the opportunities they provided me and the guidance and support they showed me in pursing my Master’s and for peaking my interests in nursing. I’m incredibly lucky to have had an enriching undergraduate experience in being well supported by a caring academic advisor (who i’m still in touch with), my fourth year practicum supervisor, my professional ethics professor, my profs in the UK, and the director of the health studies program who have all played important roles in who I am now. I think one of the most important things as not only a female, but also a person, is to find someone you look up to and connect with them and don’t be afraid to reach out to people in areas your interested in. It’s important to have that support and to know that while all our paths may not be the same, having someone in your life in that position can make a huge difference on days where you may not feel capable of reaching your goals (ie. working through pathophysiology).

My path to nursing school has not been conventional and i’ve hit many bumps along the way (ie. my battles with depression and anxiety), but I hope my journey can inspire other young people to know that life is full of funny twists and turns. It’s also helpful to know someone else feels the same way sometimes and that we aren’t alone in our journeys. In some ways its therapeutic to read about the experience of others when a lot of the resources out there for mental illness are inadequate in meeting the needs of an individual seeking help.

In time I hope to be more open about my experiences throughout nursing school and clinical practice in helping to fuel passion in other individuals whether it be in medicine or any other field, particularly in girls where opportunities to lead are not always high on the list. We need more people seeking to lead and make a difference in a world where we have people like Trump in power and in this regard we need to encourage and teach females that we can’t let someone with such disgusting views limit our visions.  I want to be part of the movement that encourages and evokes positive changes. We need to empower people to think, we need to promote opportunities to those disadvantaged, and we need to spark innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in a world where technological advances are taking opportunities away from people.



Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges.

Approximately one-third of Ph.D. students are at risk of having or developing a common psychiatric disorder like depression, a recent study reports. Although these results come from a small sample—3659 students at universities in Flanders, Belgium, 90% of whom were studying the sciences and social sciences—they are nonetheless an important addition to the growing literature about the prevalence of mental health issues in academia. One key message for scientific trainees that are struggling with these types of challenges, write co-authors Katia Levecque and Frederik Anseel of Ghent University in an email to ScienceCareers, is that “you are not alone.” Beyond that, the authors encourage Ph.D. students to appreciate how important it is to take care of themselves. “Mental health problems can develop into serious threats to one’s wellbeing and career, and can have detrimental consequences in the long-term,” they write. So, if you’re struggling, it’s important to “[s]eek professional help or seek help in your personal environment, even if you think it’s probably a temporary thing.”

According to their survey, 51% of respondents had experienced at least two symptoms of poor mental health in recent weeks, indicating psychological distress. Moreover, 32% reported at least four symptoms, indicating a risk for common psychiatric disorders, which was more than twice the prevalence among highly educated comparison groups. The most commonly reported symptoms included feeling under constant strain, being unhappy and depressed, losing sleep because of worry, and not being able to overcome difficulties or enjoy day-to-day activities. The greatest predictor for experiencing mental health challenges was having difficulty taking care of family needs due to conflicting work commitments. High job demands and low job control were also associated with increased symptoms.

On the plus side, having an inspirational supervisor partially offset these risks. So did interest in an academic career, even among students who thought they had little chance of ultimately making it. Seeing a Ph.D. as good preparation for a nonacademic career and an added value for employers was also beneficial. “When people have a clear vision of the future and the path that they are taking, this provides a sense of meaningfulness, progress and control, which should be a protective factor against mental health problems,” the authors explain.

According to Nathan Vanderford, an assistant dean for academic development at the University of Kentucky in Lexington who also studies mental health in academic trainees, “[t]he study underscores what has long been presumed; that work conditions and career outlook plays a key role in the mental state of PhD trainees,” he writes in an email to ScienceCareers.

“[I]nstitutions, departments and PIs have long ignored the systemic mental health issues among PhD trainees,” Vanderford continues. “Data such as this should make the issues irrefutable and should, for ethical and moral reasons, force the hand of these entities to take on the responsibility of helping to provide PhD trainees with the support they need to navigate the very stressful journey of earning a PhD.” Levecque and Anseel point out that small steps such as facilitating work-life balance or “offering PhD students clear and full information on job expectations and career prospects, both in and outside academia,” could have a significant positive impact.

One message for PIs is that “investing in their own leadership competencies could really make a difference” for Ph.D. students, the authors add. They encourage PIs to take the issue seriously and learn how to spot signs of potential emotional distress. Gail Kinman, a professor at the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom who acted as a reviewer for the paper, agrees. “PIs should look out for students who isolate themselves, who seem anxious and withdrawn, who are not meeting deadlines. Nobody would expect a PI to be able to diagnose mental health problems but they should be able to spot changes in their students and have the knowledge required to refer them for support,” she writes in an email to Science Careers.

Although the survey is specific to Flanders, many of the characteristics of working toward a Ph.D. are similar around the globe, making the findings generalizable, the authors argue. They hope the study, which has generated conversation on Twitter, will help break the silence around mental health issues in academia. “[I]t is a public secret that fear of stigma, retaliation or the expected negative impact on one’s future career often inhibits people suffering from mental health issues to make it public,” they write. This lack of visibility is problematic because feeling isolated can cause students’ mental health to deteriorate even further. It also means that there is less pressure on institutions and people in power to tackle the issue.

Rather than demonizing academia, action should be taken, the authors emphasize. As academics, “[w]e have had our share of struggles and challenges to overcome, but still think this is one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers one can have. So, if there’s a problem, let’s do something about it and make this a great place to work again. For everyone.”


“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.” — Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing