Ellen Carragher says she has struggled with anxiety since she was five years old.
So, she cancelled her birthday party on Friday and has replaced it with a public skate called Skate for Mental Health at Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown on Feb. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Admission will be by donation. A Facebook page called Skate for Mental Health has also been set up to accept online donations.
She’s doing it in memory of her uncle, Fred, who lost his battle with depression in 2015.
“I was thinking that I get so much for Christmas. Like, it’s ridiculous the amount of presents I get and so we were thinking do I really need to get more presents for my birthday?’’ the well-spoken student told The Guardian in an interview on her birthday.
“Do I really need to be given money? Do I really need to be given all of that stuff? (My mother and I) thought, ‘why don’t I do something good, why not have a charity’ and then I thought with my anxiety maybe we could do something like that.’’
She wants people who struggle with one form of mental illness or another to know that they are not alone, that it’s OK to talk about it.
“(My battle with anxiety) started when I was around five, and it’s never been the same. It’s been worse at times. If something big happens in my life, that’s when it happens. I worry about what if something happens to my family or what if something happens to my health or my family’s health.’’
Ellen said she finds the struggle with anxiety is worse at this time of year. She has bad days when it’s raining outside and good days when the sun is out. She’s on medication and has noticed a big improvement, although the battles are still there.
“We’ve noticed since we went on medication that she’s more calm in order to deal with (the anxiety) and face it,’’ her mother Denise said. “Before, it was getting to the point where the anxiety was so big and the what-ifs were so big that she couldn’t focus on anything. Everything was a worry.’’
When it was bad, the volume on the television at home could be a major issue. Or, if her ponytail wasn’t just right, she had anxiety.
Denise Carragher said she was wary of putting her child on medication at first but is thankful she did.
“I saw the change in her and wish I had explored that option (earlier).’’
Bianca McGregor, manager of fund development, marketing and promotions for the Canadian Mental Health Association in P.E.I., said they were blown away when they heard what Ellen wanted to do.
“It’s kind of new territory for us. When we picked our jaws up off the ground and wiped tears away we’re just so proud of her,’’ McGregor said. “She’s doing huge things to bring awareness for mental health . . . to get young people talking about it . . . what a pleasant surprise.’’
By The Numbers
1 in 5 - number of Canadians who will experience a mental health problem or illness this year
30 - percentage of disability claims related to mental health
10 – 25 - percentage of disability costs employers could avoid by taking action
198 billion - amount of money lost productivity could cost Canadians businesses over the next 30 years
Source: Mental Health Commission of Canada