CW: Self-harm and suicide
Whether you’re a front line worker, a working mother forced to choose between career and child-care, a bartender, a performing artist finding themselves jobless, or a young professional who has started working from home full-time, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on your life. As of today, most of us have not contracted the virus itself, but almost all of us have felt the impacts of the disease on our society. The Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) conducted a recent poll that found 50% of Canadians reported a significant decrease in their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic, with 41% of Canadians citing they had a spike in anxiety and roughly 20% of Canadians citing an increase in alcohol consumption. Severe mental health cases are also on a steep rise, with a recent CAMH poll projecting that there could be as many as 2000 additional deaths due to unemployment-related suicide, along with a 2 to 3 times increase of PTSD cases among front-line healthcare workers. One thing is for sure, the mental health ramifications from COVID-19 will be felt for a very long time, and a significant mental health crisis is upon us.
This predicament, of course, isn’t new to us. Many of us have been vocal about the mental health crisis for some time now, as the number of mental health and addiction cases have been steadily on the rise for decades, but this feels different. Mental health is suddenly affecting the majority of the population, and people who have never had to struggle with mental health are suddenly knowing what it's like to be faced with these challenges. It has been a long road for many of us fighting to have our voices heard through the texture of public discourse, but now we have the opportunity to remind the status quo of the importance of mental health, to alleviate the stigmas surrounding mental health (because after all, we’re all feeling it now), and most of all lend a hand to those who are new to this life experience, because no matter how poorly we have been treated in the past, empathy is always the path forward.
The WHO has tasked us with spending World Mental Health Day raising awareness and lending support to the many who are newly experiencing the throws of mental health due to COVID-19. So today I lend a hand to all of you who are experiencing this for the first time. In my experience, the worst part of being newly hit with a severe mental health challenge is the self-stigmatization and the perceived alienation. You feel utterly and completely isolated from everyone else. It feels like you are the only person in a room that is suddenly being cut off of oxygen. The solitude is suffocating. On top of that, the solution, the button that could release airflow into your room is just out of reach and no matter how hard you struggle, it's unreachable. I’m talking about the feeling of having children to feed when your entire industry suddenly falls to shambles and you find yourself unemployed. I'm talking about those 2000 souls that CAMH projects will kill themselves this year because of it.
That feeling is something that is very real for me, or at least real for a version of myself from another life. I was in my early twenties and found myself a student at a world-class music conservatory in New York. I was at the top of my game, accepted into a highly selective music composition & production program and performing with some of the best musicians on the planet. I was in a musical oasis of sorts, and was loving every minute of it. In my 3rd year, the unthinkable happened - I was struck with a life-threatening nervous breakdown triggered by undiagnosed and untreated bi-polar 1 disorder. The world didn’t fall to a crippling pandemic that year, but my world certainly felt like it did. In the months that followed I went from an esteemed music student and a top performer to finding myself in a run down apartment with a pharmacy’s worth of medication, forcibly removed from the conservatory of my dreams and struggling to survive with crushing medical debt and a McDonald’s management job with a salary that by today’s standards is a complete joke. This continued to dig away at me until the day that I found myself throwing in the towel. I vividly remember that day, the day that I gave up. I took a fistful of my medication, sat on the floor and I waited. I tried to kill myself on that day, and by all graces and the support of key people in my life at the time, I survived.
Today I find myself working at the helm of one of my life’s great missions. I find myself surrounded by two incredible co-founders who are helping me bring that vision from the depths of my mind and into the global ether. I find myself surrounded by a team of incredibly gifted individuals who truly have what it takes to make the LUCID dream a reality. And most of all, I find myself surrounded by loved ones who remain by my side through thick and thin. If by chance I had passed away on that day, I would not be able to experience any of this. That is easier for me to say now that I am through the thick of it, but I think it would have been helpful to hear a story like this during that time. So for this, I gladly share my story in support of those in the thick of it right now.
People living with a sudden and crushing mental health challenge often feel like they're in a room, alone, running out of oxygen. So today and everyday that follows, let's be vocal about mental health, let’s break down the stigmas during these uncertain times because chances are, your stories could be the oxygen in someone’s airless room. After all, most of us are feeling this way right now, so why go at it alone?
Aaron Labbé is the Co-founder, Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of LUCID. He started the LUCID project in his 4th year at Ryerson University where he met Zoë and eventually Zach, and they co-founded LUCID, Inc in 2018. LUCID is turning music into medicine in an effort to disrupt the way we approach mental health. Their first app VIBE is available for download on the App Store.
For other empowering mental health content, visit Aaron’s Reddit AMA and previous blog posts:
COVID-19 Survey Source: