Opinion: Disqualify stigma against mental illness

By now, most of you have probably heard about the shenanigans surrounding the Rideau River Residence Association (RRRA) elections.

After multiple recounts, the Home Team and Keep RRRA Working slates ended up in a dead tie. Normally, this would result in a run-off election between the two slates. However, it’s looking like that’s not going to happen because the Home Team has been disqualified, according to a press release from the chief electoral officer (CEO).

Shanee Bailey, the Home Team’s presidential candidate, explained her side of the story in a heartfelt letter to supporters on Facebook. Bailey, who works as a Res Commons desk employee, admitted to suffering from depression for a large part of her life.

In the letter, Bailey describes the series of events like this: One day, before RRRA nominations started, a combination of personal issues and the stresses of work and school caused her to suffer a major emotional breakdown. In desperation, she took the res binder (which contains the contact information of all students in residence) home with her to contact a friend for support. In her depressed state, she completely forgot about the binder until she was asked to return it.

I haven’t heard of any students who complained about being called or emailed by the Home Team slate, and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest they used the res binder in their campaign at all. Yet RRRA CEO Fadi El Masry still saw it fit to disqualify the Home Team and declare Keep RRRA Working the winners.

The worst part is that Bailey claims El Masry attempted to, in her words, “blackmail” her into quietly dropping out of the race before the recount by threatening to make information about her depression public. Blackmailed with her own mental health. Welcome to politics, folks.

There is a larger issue at hand than the results of a student election, though. I’m talking about the stigma that people project towards mental illness. It’s appalling, really.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that one in five people will suffer from mental illness at some point in their life — that’s 20 per cent of the population. Yet society still looks at people who suffer from mental health issues like invisible lepers. It’s to the point where, according to the CMHA’s website, only about 20 per cent of youth afflicted with mental illness in the first place will actually get treatment. We are treating mental illness like it’s some dirty little secret that no one’s allowed to talk about without getting shunned.

And it’s sad that it has to happen here in Ottawa, too, because I really thought we were starting to get our act together on mental health.

It was less than four years ago that the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre teamed up with the greatest hockey player in the history of ever, Daniel Alfredsson, for the “You Know Who I Am” campaign. In a press conference, Alfredsson discussed his family’s struggles to help his sister, who had suffered from depression.

Less than two years ago, Daron Richardson, daughter of Luke Richardson, the Ottawa Senators’ assistant coach, committed suicide at the age of 14. Rather than wallowing in their grief, the Richardsons teamed up with the Royal Ottawa and went public with the “Do It for Daron” (D.I.F.D.) campaign, which aims to establish dialogue between parents and youth about mental health. The campaign still enjoys massive support to this day.

In fact, RRRA’s election results were announced March 28, the day before Carleton’s Power to the Purple Day — a D.I.F.D. initiative where students wear purple (Daron’s favourite colour) to raise awareness and promote discourse about mental health issues. I guess not everyone got the memo.

I have every ounce of respect in the world for Bailey. Whether or not she was actually blackmailed is almost irrelevant. She still had the courage to stand up and not only say that she made a mistake, but be honest with us as to why she made it.

As for the alleged “blackmail” incident, I can’t say whether or not it actually happened, but a missing res desk binder isn’t the only thing we should be investigating.

For her slate to be disqualified when no one has presented a shred of concrete evidence that they actually cheated is atrocious, and it only furthers the idea that mental illness is something that has to be hidden from the world. I wish we had a few more Baileys in the world — people who aren’t afraid to put a spotlight on the darker parts of their lives.

—  Riley Evans
first-year journalism