A 23-year-old University of Ottawa student who struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder in high school said she couldn’t have overcome the illness without the help of her parents and friends and is encouraging other parents to have that important talk with their kids.
Speaking at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre on Tuesday, on the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, Alyse Schacter opened up about her mental health struggles that started Grade 7 in Ottawa. Whether it was brushing her teeth, showering, or walking to class, it would take her hours to get through the smallest of tasks.
“At the time I would be having trouble getting from classroom to classroom because I would get stuck with the cracks in the tiles. Every time I would step on a crack, I would have to go back to my locker and start the journey again,” said Schacter.
After her parents spoke to the class and asked her classmates to help her out, they began giving her piggybacks to and from classes so her feet wouldn’t have to touch the ground.
“Particularly in mental health, because we’re so scared to open up, I think people will be really pleasantly surprised by the reactions of support,” she said.
Recent awareness campaigns have tried to remove the stigma around talking about mental health, but the thought of starting that conversation with their kids might scare some parents. Not having those conversations is what scares Schacter.
Parents often underestimate their inherent counselling abilities and instead feel overwhelmed by the feeling that they are not qualified to help.
“My parents weren’t able to cure my OCD, they weren’t able to prescribe me medication, or do therapy with me. Just their really basic, unconditional support is what saved my life,” she said.
A telephone helpline run by the Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO) is one local resource parents can turn to for help. The crisis line is run by parents who’ve navigated the mental health system with their own children. In the past two years, it has helped 611 families.