Times can be dark for one Stratford junior high school student who suffers from mental illness.
But Ellen Carragher, 13, is doing what she can to bring some light into the world for others.
For the past two years, the Birchwood Intermediate School student has hosted a public skate in Charlottetown on her birthday. Instead of having a traditional birthday party, she asks people to bring donations for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Ellen has struggled with anxiety since she was five years old. She decided to hold a fundraiser called Skate for Mental Health.
All money raised goes to the P.E.I. branch of the mental health association.
They managed to pull in $9,842 from the auction, another $2,500 from sponsors, $1,700 from the skate itself and cash donations for a grand total of $15,731. That easily beats what they raised last year, which was close to $9,000.
“It went amazing. I am so happy with the turnout and how much money we raised,’’ Ellen said. “I am really proud.’’
Like so many people who suffer from a mental illness, to be around Ellen is no different than being around any other teenager. Everything seems fine, but she said that’s not always the case.
“It gets hard, there are struggles and I still do struggle with anxiety. I worry about a lot of things. I (get) stressed, I have a routine I cannot break, everything is hard. But, when you’re around friends and people that you love it does help and it does make you happy as well.’’
Ellen said she struggles most in the dark winter months and on rainy days.
She wants people who suffer from mental illness to know they’re not alone, that it’s OK to talk about it.
“Keeping your feelings inside only does so much. It makes it feel worse for me. Talking about it is like a big weight off your shoulders.’’
The skate fundraiser is also in memory of her uncle, Fred, who lost his battle with depression in 2015.
“My uncle Freddie was very important to me. We laughed together. I didn't know he had depression. He always kept it in and very few of us knew. I did this in honour of him.’’
Ellen’s mother, Denise, said she’s proud of her daughter for not being scared to talk about her illness in the media.
“She’s just a really great kid who has dealt with things for a really long time and I’m just super proud of how she works at it and what she’s done, putting her face out there,’’ Denise Carragher said.
Bianca McGregor, manager of fund development for the Canadian Mental Health Association in P.E.I., said it’s great to have such a passionate youth who is so articulate.
“We don't have a lot of youth champions out there, putting themselves out there,’’ McGregor said. “It’s hard enough being a teenager. The fact that we’ve got Ellen who is happy to come out and talk about it and raise awareness . . . is just icing on the cake.’’