Let’s Talk About Stigma with Author Jack Travis

An interview with mental health advocate and author, Jack Travis

In late October, the Stigma-Free Society connected with 23-year-old Jack Travis, who wrote a self-help book titled Starting Point: Your Journey to A Better Life Starts Here… Inspired by Jack’s personal, first-hand experiences regarding mental illness and addiction, the book aims to provide knowledge and guidance to those who are struggling in life and wish to live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.

One of the key themes that weaved through our conversation was the idea of fear, and how it fuels the stigma of mental illness. On one hand, many people fear the mentally ill because they think people with mental illnesses are dangerous. On the other hand, people who are struggling with mental health issues are afraid to seek professional help because of the misconceptions about mental hospitals, therapy, and support groups.

Stigma is like “Twisting a Knife”

One of the first questions I asked Jack was, “What does mental health and stigma mean to you?” And Jack responded by saying:

“I believe stigma is a big problem and a big barrier that makes it hard for people to heal. In order for the sufferers to heal from their mental illnesses, they need love and support from other people. They need people to point them in the right direction. If they have people in their lives telling them that there is something wrong with them, and that they are dangerous or crazy, it’s just adding to the problem, making them worse. It’s like twisting a knife that’s already in your body.

Before I sought professional help, any time I felt the need to talk to somebody, I tried to talk to my friends. I wanted them to be there for me, but they were going behind my back and telling people to stay away from me because I was supposedly “dangerous.” Then, they betrayed me by making false accusations against me and trying to get me in trouble. It was really hard on me. I lost a lot of friends because of that, but they were not bad people; they were just afraid of me because of the stigma.”

Overcoming Fear with Knowledge

When talking about addressing the unfounded fear and prejudice the general public has towards people with mental illnesses, Jack explains,

“The most common fear is the fear of the unknown, and the only way to conquer that is by gaining knowledge. The more you learn about something, the less scary it is. It’s like when you were a kid; you thought there was a monster living under your bed, and you had a stress response because it was a perceived threat to your survival. However, when you grew up, and you learned that it was not a monster, but just a sweater. It eliminated that stress response because you now know that there’s no immediate threat to your survival.

Similarly, when I learned more about mental illness, I realized that it’s actually not that scary. People who are mentally ill are not dangerous; they are just really hurting, and they really need love, support, and guidance to get through their issues.”

“The Mental Hospital was Actually Quite Pleasant.”

We also talked about the misconceptions about mental institutions, and how they prevent mental illness sufferers from seeking professional help. On this topic, Jack shared his own experience with being in a mental hospital.

“There are a lot of people who are afraid of going to mental hospitals. That’s why I talk about my personal experiences with that and how it was actually a pleasant experience. The first time I got hospitalized, I tried to commit suicide the night before. I was in the emergency room for about 12 hours before the doctors did a psych evaluation, and then I got transferred to the mental hospital. I did have anxiety going into it, but once I got into the psych unit, it was a very positive and welcoming atmosphere.

The security guard brought me to the unit and introduced me to other patients, and they all welcome me with smiles. They were saying things like, “Hi. Nice to meet you.” They all had interesting stories, and I connected with them. It was really nice. The staff took great care of me, and there were all different kinds of activities like meditation, art therapy, music therapy and group therapy. You got to go outside if you wanted to, and they fed you three meals a day. That’s why I tried to let people know that it’s not as scary as it seems. Professional help is a much better option, in comparison to the terrible alternative of self-medicating with substances.”

Trust the Professionals

A lot of people, who are troubled by mental illnesses, also have difficulty trusting mental health professionals and opening up to them about their own personal experiences. Here is Jack’s response:

“A lot of people are afraid of opening up because they opened up to the wrong people in the past. Those people judged them and made them feel worse about themselves. That happened to me, and I was afraid to open up because I thought that I was going to be beaten down, threatened, or yelled at like others did to me.

Sometimes, families and friends may not be the best people to open up to because they are the most biased; they are not entitled to keep secrets, and they may mislead you. Again, it’s not because they are mean; they want to help you, but they may not know exactly how. That’s why you want your support network to be mainly people that know how to help you.”

Building Resiliency and Finding Your Passion

When I asked Jack, “what recommendations would you give to someone who is struggling in life? How do you motivate them to make a positive change?” Here is Jack’s answer:

“It’s all about breaking unhealthy thought patterns. If you were abused for your whole life, especially verbally and emotionally, you are conditioned and taught to think in a certain way. Unless you recondition yourself, you will continue to think that way. I hope the information in my book can help people break out of those negative thought patterns and teach them the right ways of life.”

One thing I learned in life is that the harder you fall, the higher you can rise. Think about dribbling a basketball; the harder it hits the floor, the higher it bounces back up. In other words, the worse you feel in one moment, the better you have the potential to feel in the next moment.

When I think about how sick and unstable I was, as opposed to how I am now, I honestly believe that anybody can do what I did if they are given the right help and guidance. I want to help prove that to the world. That’s the reason why I wrote this book because I want to help others who are in a similar place and be the person who wasn’t there for me.”

Author’s Final Thoughts

I certainly learned a lot from my conversation with Jack in terms of why people behave in certain ways, when it comes to mental health issues, and how we can go about reducing the stigma in both the general public and the sufferers. Knowing Jack’s lifelong struggle with mental illness and addiction, and how he was able to bounce back and change his outlook on life in less than a year, gives me hope that other people who are struggling in life can do the same.  If you would like to connect with Travis Jack and/or purchase his impacting book, please check out his website.

Author, Danny Li, Community Development Manager, Stigma-Free Society


There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Stigma-Free Zones, but what are they really? And how can you become part of the movement?

It’s difficult to ignore certain ongoing cultural narratives that are problematic at best and harmful at worst. They isolate and divide us as communities, and as individuals. Our goal is to create tolerant, compassionate, and inclusive spaces that help facilitate a more positive and proactive narrative surrounding stigma.

Dave Richardson, Co-founder of the Stigma-Free Zone movement, notes that living stigma-free is a journey; it doesn’t happen all at once. Becoming a designated Stigma Free Zone, whether you represent a school, organization, riding, or geographical area is a process.

So what does this process look like?

The first step is to educate ourselves, and develop awareness of the judgments (both conscious and unconscious) that we all make in a hundred different ways every day. Our assumptions inform our perceptions and define not just how we see ourselves, but how we understand and relate to others. One way we can challenge these biases is by sharing our personal stories with one another.

To become a designated Stigma-Free Zone, we encourage you to bring in a professional presenter to your school, business, or organization. An important component of these presentations is educating people about the trauma caused by bullying and stigmatizing language and behaviors. Our presenters, including co-founder Andrea Paquette, have overcome incredible challenges with respect to their mental health, and are able to speak with compelling authenticity about their experiences.

Stigma-Free Pledge

Becoming a Stigma-Free Zone means making a commitment to creating a safe, welcoming environment based on principles of tolerance and acceptance, without fear of ridicule, harassment, and bullying. Currently, we are working with a broad range of community leaders, including representatives from businesses and organizations, school staff and students, and MLAs in provincial ridings.

In addition to presentations, we provide resources for creating a Stigma-Free environment, including helping you complete a Stigma-Free Pledge and preparing posters with calls to action to help you live free of stigma. Schools, for example, receive a full toolkit and designation, and a Champion from that institution is then chosen to work alongside our Stigma-Free Zone Task Force to continue creating meaningful activities within the organization.

Regardless of your background or circumstances, everyone struggles and everyone has a story. Stories are a universal language that unite us as parts of a shared human narrative, and they are what brings us together in compassion.

Finally, living a stigma-free life isn’t just about learning tolerance for others. It’s also about self-empathy and releasing ourselves from the burden of judgment and internalized shame that we carry with us in our daily lives, and learning to live a life defined by authenticity, joy, and self-acceptance.

Are you ready to live stigma-free? Start changing the conversation today?

Contact us today and let’s cultivate a Stigma-Free culture in your school, business/organization and/or geographical area!

Thank you and together we can stop stigma!

Co-authored by Jenn Mclean and Robyn Thomas

Pacific Autism Family Network – Stigma-Free Zone with Ambassador Lucas Gates

Pacific Autism Family Network is the first charity in Canada to be working toward their Stigma-Free Zone designation.

They have a team of Stigma-Free Champions that includes Lucas Gates, Ambassador, Laura Lombardi, Vice President, Foundation and additional staff members with the support of Co-Founders Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia and Sergio Cocchia.

The Stigma-Free Society is excited to be working with this very effective organization and having all of the Stigma-Free Zone criteria complete in the upcoming months.


Andrea Paquette AKA Bipolar Babe – Public Salon Talk in Vancouver

Andrea Paquette, AKA Bipolar Babe, shares her personal story in a brief 8 minute talk to over 500+ people at the Vancouver Playhouse in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Children’s Mental Health Program

“Is mental health when your tooth hurts?”, this is one of the endearing answers I received when talking to grade 4’s about mental health and stigma.

While I love talking to teens and adults, the elementary kids I speak to since launching our Children’s Mental Health Presentation Programming have a special place in my heart. Grade 4 is the age when I started experiencing my own mental health challenges. I went from a happy kid who loved school and soccer and anything creative to one of the many people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly referred to as OCD.

Many people are shocked to learn that elementary school kids often struggle with their mental health. Aren’t they too young to be depressed? Shouldn’t they just be worrying about life on the playground? Well… like anything mental health related, it happens a lot more than we’d care to think.

But hey… that’s okay! The moment we take away the stigma associated with mental health and teach kids from an early age that it’s just as acceptable to talk about a sprained ankle or a sore tummy, we can equip them with the tools they need to take care of themselves and to reach out for help when they need it.

Even as a ten-year-old I somehow sensed that the intrusive thoughts and painfully time-consuming compulsions I was experiencing weren’t “normal” and were something I shouldn’t talk about. Because of the lack of education and awareness around mental health then, I kept my burden a secret. I still had good grades, I was still “achieving”, but I was also deeply suffering.

When we add stigma to mental health challenges, it’s a scary obstacle that is hard to face. But when we strip away the shame and silence that give it power, mental health issues are just like any other challenge—hard at times, but surmountable. And like any challenge, if treated with the right care and compassion, a person can transform that pain into empathy and strength.

Program Summary: Click HERE



Blog Author, Robyn Thomas, Children’s Mental Health Education Program Presenter

Program Funded by the Edith Lando Foundation

Natalie’s ‘Coming Out’ Story…

So I guess this is my ‘Coming Out’ story, as I have spent the past few years battling with my identity; the illness vs me. Now it’s time to come clean to my wider circle of friends and family, and perhaps to myself as well.

The signs of bipolar were always there, a diagnosis merely highlighted the facts. I was often met with the label of ‘too intense’, ‘hypersensitive’, and in some cases just pure ‘crazy’. The lookers and pointers where always quick to tell me something was wrong, but until I decided to realize it for myself, everything was just ‘fine’; fine with roller coaster highs and fine with lows that could not be reasoned with. Until now.

Now I stand proud with my bipolar label.

What does this mean for me? A bipolar diagnosis sheds light on some of my past thoughts and actions and it now puts my future into perspective. I take daily medications and use self-care strategies. I work on a colour-coded mood scale, that depicts my darkest and brightest states. I never thought I would be so at home with a label, a chart, even an identity, but you see bipolar is not my identity, it is deep rooted in who I am as a person. A person full of love, happiness, creativity and excitement. Someone who, with the aid of said colour-coded-chart, can pin point her mood at any given time and proactively see the potential pitfalls coming her way and react to them accordingly.

Coming to terms with, and accepting this illness has been by far my hardest task to date – even given some of my most intense episodes and hospitalizations. The realization that there is a manageable life to this eternal illness and having the strength to push on with, and uphold the strategies I need to stay in a safe place, has been nothing less than an epiphany.

So here I stand, guilty of the highs that send me into psychosis and allow me to talk to god, as well as the lows that dig a bigger hole than a JCB excavator! I no longer anguish over the past, but instead, look forward to the future. I now know I can take each day for what it is with the help of some very strong and supportive family members, friends and helpful local organizations such as Stigma-Free Zone. I have returned to University in a bid to learn this illness inside out, I continue to hold down a job and care for my four-legged friend Sandy the Chiweenie (although she may well be the caregiver). I recognize the difference between self-care and selfishness and continue to grow as a person, each and every minute.

I’d never wish this illness upon anyone, but for now I am happy to say it is very much a part of me.

I am Natalie, a daughter, a friend, a lover, and I proudly manage, not struggle, with a disorder called Bipolar 1. I am Natalie, and I have bipolar.

VGH UBC Hospital Foundation – Me Too Conversations Vol 6 – February 23


Thursday, February 23, 2017

VGH_MeToo_Vol6_poster_VancouverThe statistics are not changing. One in every five Canadian is affected by mental illness and the stigma is as strong as ever. ‘Me Too’ is bringing some of the brightest minds and speakers to the table to continue the conversation and smash the stigma. Join us for our final event of this six-part series.

For Me Too Vol. 6, our key note presenter is sports broadcaster and talk show host Michael Landsberg, who will share his own personal experience with depression and the ways in which stigma has impacted his journey. You’ll also hear from Kimberly Rutledge and others.

Expect to leave this event feeling inspired and hopeful, with a better understanding of what stigma is and how we can take action to bring mental illness out into the open.


Michael Landsberg
Michael Landsberg is one of the most prolific and recognizable sports broadcasters in Canada, having hosted nearly 10,000 TV shows over his career with TSN/CTV. In 2009 he shared, on air, his struggle with severe depression and saw first-hand the tremendous impact his sharing had on others. Blessed with exceptional insights and a passion to make a difference, he tells his journey to whoever will listen, coining the phrase #sicknotweak to describe how he sees mental illness. In 2014, Michael was honoured with the Humanitarian Award at the Canadian Screen Awards. To this day, he remains committed on a daily, even hourly basis to sharing his struggles without shame or embarrassment, so others will be empowered to feel the same.

Kimberly Rutledge 
Kimberly Rutledge is 20 years old and currently studying science at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. She is a huge advocate for mental health as part of www.jack.org and believes that there is so much power in conversation. It is her hope to curate change by creating positive spaces where there is an open dialogue and no more silence.

Monica McAlduff
Monica is currently the Director, Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Acute, Tertiary and Urgent Services with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). As an avid advocate for clients and families, her current focus includes improving patient care in the Psychiatry setting and involving Family and Clients in Clinical Practice decisions about their care. Monica has over 20 years of experience in Health Care: Mental Health and Substance Use, from front line nursing through to her current leadership role. For the past several years, Monica has led the Vancouver Mental Health and Substance Use Redesign which is transforming mental health and substance use programs and creating greater access for all Vancouver adults. Monica is a member of the Douglas College Psychiatric Nursing Program Advisory Committee and works within her community and abroad challenging and inspiring health service providers to create better access to services for all populations.

Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017
In-person: Doors 6:00pm | Start 7:00pm
Live webcast:  7 pm PST | view the event from this web page
Where: SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts – 149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC

To RSVP for this event, please email rsvp@vghfoundation.ca

Join the Me Too conversations online by sharing ‘me too’ stories on Twitter with the hashtag #MeTooVan and by tagging @VGHFdn

Recovery is possible. Want to start taking action now? Download our PDF to join the conversation on mental health and find out where to go for support.

This event is sponsored by the Andy Szocs Foundation, Kelty Patrick Dennehy Foundation, Vancouver Coastal Health and VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation.

Source: http://vghfoundation.ca/

Jenny’s Inspiring Story – The Impact of the Teens2Twenties Support Group

JennySeven years ago, I met Andrea Paquette and seven years ago, she and the Bipolar babe Teens2Twenties program saved my life.

Back then I wasn’t who I am today. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of seven years old and it was at that age that I first attempted to commit suicide. Even being this young I knew I didn’t want to live because the feelings I had were too strong and I couldn’t understand how everything could be so painful. I thought life would always be that way and it started a very self-destructive cycle that took years to break.

Over the next several years I would be shuffled from foster home to foster home, my mental health would deteriorate rapidly and unfortunately, I would begin to normalize abusive situations. I developed a serious eating disorder, drug addiction and would go through various intense psychotic episodes which would result in hospitalizations due to my Bipolar Disorder.

Over the years, I would be hospitalized repeatedly due to self-harm. At my worst, I received forty-seven staples for self-inflicted wounds just to be released from the hospital and given no help what so ever, I was told I was a lost cause by doctors, nurses, friends and family.

When I aged out of foster care, I was put on permanent disability and was not expected to ever recover. My case was “difficult” and I wasn’t reacting to therapy and medication properly so I felt there was no way I would ever escape the torture that I was feeling on a day to day basis. I was unable to work, go grocery shopping, fill out forms or do normal day to day tasks such as cooking or cleaning. If I opened my eyes and reality set in, I would start crying and take more pills to fall asleep because being awake hurt too much.

At 20 years, old I met Andrea and I had no idea that it would change my life, she and the Society gave me purpose and a community ofshutterstock_126377570-2 people I could relate to. She gave me work and volunteer experience, she provided me with tons of resources such as guidance on how to assess proper psychiatric care, counseling and I attended the Teens2Twenties Support Group over the years. She eventually hired me as a group facilitator for the Society’s Women’s Group, supported my art and mostly importantly supported me. She and the Society saved my life.

Now I’m twenty-seven, I’ve gone to school full time and I currently work at a hair salon with the position of assistant manager and advanced stylist. I no longer suffer from psychotic episodes and my Bipolar Disorder is considered to be in stable condition, I no longer self-harm, I recovered from my drug addiction and eating disorder. I sell my art, volunteer, practice yoga and dance and I’m a very active part of my community.

I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Andrea, she and her Society literally saved my life and all I want is for others like me to have the chance I did!


Shaw – GenWhy TV – Stigma Free Zone-Interview w/Andrea Paquette

There are numerous stigmas that exist in society such as mental illness, racism, sexual orientation, that contribute to our perceptions and attitudes of people. The Stigma-Free Zone programs support and educate individuals, especially youth, to manage their personal mental wellness. GenWhy TV talkes with Andrea Paquette at the Shaw Studio.

Andrew’s Fascinating Story: Psychosis to Recovery is not an Easy Road

stigma free zoneMy alarm clock read 3 am. I lay awake, unable to sleep. It was the fifth night in a row that I’d gone without sleep. Five nights is enough to break anybody, let alone someone in the early stages of mental illness.

I’d been struggling the past few months. My grades weren’t as great as they I would have liked, I was becoming increasingly isolated, anxious, and moody, and my mind persistently raced. A slump, I reasoned. But my “slump” didn’t explain Charlie.

I lit a cigarette, and waited. I had come to expect nightly visits from Charlie. I hadn’t told anyone about him and I mean no one would believe Charlie existed. To be frank, even I was doubtful. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And there was certainly something devilish about Charlie.

My mind had, over the course of a year or so, become consumed with religious ideas.  Odd, considering I didn’t associate with traditional religion. Prior to my encounters with Charlie, I never would I have considered myself a religious guy, but midway through my second year at the University of Victoria, I was convinced I was possessed. This was my only explanation for the supernatural entity I knew as Charlie.

When Charlie spoke to me – his many voices clamoring inside my head – he’d tell me I was the reincarnation of Christ. Charlie often came to me with visions of the future. I saw myself leading a revolution, and deposing the corrupt and deceptive powers that be.

Let’s backtrack a bit. I was using drugs – cannabis – and was drinking heavily on the weekends. I consider the University of Victoria to be a party school, and I found myself immersed in the campus culture of reckless indulgence. But substance abuse is normalized among students, and among young adults in general. During the Paris expat era of the 1920’s, Gertrude Stein referred to post-war twenty-somethings as “lost.” Looking back, I realize I too had become lost; just a lost boy looking for his next “feel good” moment.  I would have fit in well with Stein’s “lost generation.”

My friends were beginning to worry. I was no longer the pal they once knew.  I had taken on a disheveled and rough around the edges kindshutterstock_162565103-2 of look, and my behaviour had become erratic and odd. Engrossed in the twisted fantasies that filled my head, I stayed up all night watching “The Exorcist,” chased phantom silhouettes around my landlord’s backyard, and had assumed a vacant thousand-yard stare. I was a shell of my former self, unrecognizable to my innermost circle.

It had become clear to everyone around me that my mental health was deteriorating, and quickly at that. While my friends and family advocated for help on my behalf, I edged closer to a full blown psychotic break.

I had a lot on my plate.  Not only was I facing psychosis, but I had been battling a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and depression for a year and a half.  When I finally saw a psychiatrist, at the age of 19, I was almost immediately diagnosed with psychosis NOS (not otherwise specified), OCD and a mood disorder. A couple of years later, I was re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (part bipolar, part schizophrenia) and OCD.

My substance abuse complicated matters. Following my diagnosis, I explored hard drugs: cocaine, opiates, opioids, and a diverse array of GABA-ergic medications. I became a recreational, and at times habitual, user.  My drug use exacerbated my illness, and suicide or overdose quickly became a dangerous reality.

I’m 30 now, and having lived the past thirteen years with a mental health diagnosis, I can honestly say, I’m not out of the woods yet. I may be past the hospitalization phase of my illness (I have racked up a total of 20 or so hospitalizations since being diagnosed), but new challenges loom on the horizon; integrating back into society, learning to cope with day-to-day stressors without the crutch of drugs and alcohol, and repairing damaged relationships will not be easy.

shutterstock_140221207-2Once again, they say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. This saying shouldn’t be taken at face
value; it’s a metaphor. And it fits well with the topic of mental illness.  Perhaps it is those of us who’ve lived with mental health diagnoses – not the devil – who work so hard at convincing the world we don’t exist.

Above all other reasons, it is the stigma associated with mental health conditions that keeps us silent and hidden. We’ll sweep all traces of mental illness under the rug, just to give off the impression of normalcy.  I haven’t escaped stigma unscathed, but I deserve credit where credit is due. I’ve persevered.

It’s still early days, but I’ve come so far. Acceptance is the first step on the long road through recovery. Accepting my illness and the consequences of living with a mental health condition has been one of my greatest and most hard-earned accomplishments. The devil has his tricks, but I’ve got an ace or two up my sleeve, and the greatest trick I’ve ever pulled was admitting to myself that I was ill.