By Haneen Al-Hassoun

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Liberal MP of Whitby, Ontario and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, stood in front of a dozen people at Carleton on Nov. 24 and spoke about her struggle with depression.

The event, “Mental Health & Politics,” was hosted by the Student Alliance for Mental Health (SAMH). Caesar-Chavannes opened up about her mental health and discussed the mental health system in Canada.

She said her depression is something that she was aware of for quite a while, but was afraid of seeking help for, causing her to make excuses in order to avoid it.

She added it impacted her post-secondary education as it took her six years to complete her three-year program, a Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto.

Caesar-Chavannes ran in the federal by-election in 2015 and lost.  She said after losing that by-election, she was devastated, and it threw her into a severe state of depression.

“My ego was bruised because I lost publicly,” she said.

In a blog on the Huffington Post, titled “I’m An MP And I’m Among Those Who Struggle With Depression,” Caesar-Chavannes wrote that she was diagnosed with depression in mid-2015.

In 2016, Caesar-Chavannes was able to secure a seat in the Parliament, but she said it was not easy. Her husband quit his job during the federal election in order to support her through the process.

She said sometimes it’s hard to balance her life because it’s constantly “on” and her job requires attention 24/7. Caesar-Chavannes said when it gets tough she copes by calling her support group, which consists of her husband and three children.

Caesar-Chavannes has not hidden her mental illness from the public. In addition to the blog post on the Huffington Post, she’s a mental health advocate. She’s a member of the Mental Health in the Workplace Champions Council, which works towards making workplaces a better resource for those who struggle with mental health.

Sumaiya Nawar, a second-year Carleton mechanical engineering and political science student, said she used to stigmatize mental illness until she experienced depression herself.

She said seeing someone with a prominent position in the government such as Caesar-Chavannes being open about their depression helps erase the stigma around it.

“If she’s vulnerable to depression, then anyone is,” Nawar said.

Caesar-Chavannes said the mental health system in Canada needs some reform so more funding is put towards the earlier stages of prognosis.

She said it’s nonsensical to let mental illness reach its peak, when it is something that can be addressed at an earlier stage.

“We have a system that treats mental illness, but we don’t have a mental health system,” she said.