Ashley Belanger-Birt of Charlottetown knows first-hand what it is like to go through university with a mental illness.
She has struggled with it most of her life but was in the throes of her worst manic episode in 2016 during her last year of studies at the University of Prince Edward Island.
At the time, she was battling depression, anxiety and psychosis.
She says she was hearing voices leading up to graduation day and had plans to take her own life after receiving her degree.
“The weekend of graduation, I sat on my bed and I started writing. I wrote letters to every person that was significant to me. I wrote letters to my kids, telling them that mommy had to go to heaven and that they were better off without me,” said Belanger-Birt. “I crossed the stage with all the pride I had knowing that I had planned not to be there the next week.”
She was admitted into Unit 9 in what would be her longest stay in acute psychiatric care. That’s where she met an “amazing” psychologist, and after years of holding everything in, she was finally able to let it all out.
“I’m levelled, but I know everyday that I have to fight. I know there is going to be bad times, I know there is going to be good times. I know now that I don’t want there to be an end. As much as there are bad days, I don’t ever want it to go that way again.”
Belanger-Birt, who is 29, says her journey to wellness has been challenging, but she takes it a day at a time.
“I’m levelled, but I know everyday that I have to fight. I know there is going to be bad times, I know there is going to be good times.
“I know now that I don’t want there to be an end. As much as there are bad days, I don’t ever want it to go that way again.”
Belanger-Birt will be sharing her personal journey during the Out of the Blue Gala event at the Wanda Wyatt Dining Hall on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. to help raise awareness around student mental health.
She says students struggling with mental illness should use the numerous resources available on campus.
“There are so many people who will help you and talk to you.”
She hopes by sharing her story that it will help other students realize they are not alone.
“It’s going to get better,” said Belanger-Birt. “You just can’t give up because there is no coming back from it if you do.”
Belanger-Birt is one of three key speakers at the event, including Leigh Read and Treena Smith.
Sarah Donald, chairwoman for the Out of the Blue gala committee, says the gala is geared towards students, particularly students living in residence, but that the event is open to the public.
Donald said there will also be vendors at the gala to offer supports and resources for students, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, UPEI Student Affairs and UPEI Security Services.
“We kind of think of mental health as the one in five Canadians who struggle with mental illness, but I want people to walk away from this gala and realize that everyone has mental health that can be taken care of.”
Tickets for the gala can be purchased at the Wanda Wyatt Dining Hall. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.