'You’re not alone': Teen mental health advocate speaks out about youth depression
Published Sunday, January 24, 2016 10:31PM EST
Once an anxious youth who suffered from depression, Alberta teen Mackenzie Murphy is taking the world by storm, helping others to deal with mental illness.
Murphy knew from a young age what depression felt like. She was 12 when she began to be bullied in her hometown of Airdrie, which is located north of Calgary.
“I was cyber-bullied, physically bullied, I was emotionally bullied,” says Murphy, now 16. “It went on and on.”
The relentless attacks by classmates eroded Murphy’s confidence, making her feel worthless.
“I didn’t feel like anyone cared,” Murphy said in an interview with CTV News. “I truly thought that everyone would be happier if I was gone.”
When she was in Grade 6, Murphy tried to end her life in one of five suicide attempts that sent her to hospital and into therapy. It was there that other teens approached her with their own stories of stress, anxiety and depression, and Murphy quickly learned that she was not alone.
With the number of 12- to 19-year-olds in Canada at risk for developing depression estimated at 3.2 million, Murphy’s struggles are indeed, not unique.
Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of children, with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third-highest among industrialized nations. Suicide is among the leading causes of death for Canadians who are 15-24 years of age.
After seeing the pain of her peers, Murphy decided she had to take action. She started by telling her own story.
“I know, for me, the biggest thing that I needed to know was that other people felt this too,” Murphy said. “It’s very comforting to know that you’re not alone in this fight.”
The decision to be open about her illness has changed the trajectory of Murphy’s life.
“I’m still struggling every day and it is a journey,” she said. “I am now six months out of the hospital, I am off meds … I’m at a very healthy point in my life.”
While still in recovery, Murphy decided to push for an anti-bullying bylaw in Airdrie, that would see fines for offenders who torment others.
It was a bold step that earned her accolades around the world. In 2014, Murphy won the Me to We award for social activism. In 2015, in honour of her anti-bullying initiatives, she received the International Diana Award, named for the late Princess of Wales.
Airdrie Mayor Peter Brown says the community is “really proud” of Murphy, who represents her community as Miss Teenage Airdrie and Miss Teen Alberta American Beauty.
“She has really changed the lives of a lot of people, and a lot of people she’ll never meet, by showing that it’s OK to talk about bullying and bringing mental health issues to the forefront,” Brown said.
Murphy’s story is proof that once depression is recognized and treated, it can give people new purpose, says Dr. Waqar Waheed, one of her doctors.
“I think her story tells other people that they don’t need to live in the shadows if they are suffering from any kind of mental illness,” said Dr. Waheed, who works in child and adolescent psychiatry at Alberta Children’s Hospital. “Far too many teenagers live without feeling comfortable with letting parents know, with letting school staff now, about their mental health concerns.”
Murphy is now in the midst of catching up on her studies, in between speaking engagements at schools and events across Canada, including We Day Alberta 2015. She also receives emails and letters from young people around the world.
As she looks to the future, Murphy is also in the process of putting together a fundraiser to open a youth treatment home as an alternative to hospital care.
Her advice to other teens suffering from depression? Find a reason to look beyond the darkness and hold on until the light comes shining through.
With a report by CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip