Councillor Briscoe: More actions needed in mental health conversations, breaking stigma

  • Council   Friday, January 13, 2023   Emily Stewart
Taylor Briscoe

Taylor Briscoe

City Councillor Taylor Briscoe, an advocate for mental health, said that society has come a long way over the past several years in terms of talking about mental health and is speaking from her own experiences. 

During the October 3rd Meet the Councillors Forum that took place before the Mayoral Debate for the 2022 Stratford Municipal Election, Briscoe said in her speech that she is a mental health advocate after losing her father to addiction and suicide. After the passing about seven years ago, the family had a difficult time processing the death. Briscoe said she took on guilt and blame and didn’t have time to process it. 

"I took it as if it was completely my responsibility or my fault and just thought the best way to move forward was to continue moving forward in goals and in life and if I achieve things and make him proud then that'll be fine,” she said speaking to the Stratford Times Jan. 4. 

Briscoe then went to law school, which was lots of pressure and a demanding environment with not a lot of support available for her.

“My experience in the school deteriorated my mental health really badly. I was already dealing with the grief and the anxiety and the depression and not knowing it,” she said. “I couldn't name it at the time but that was what I was dealing with and then when I got there, being made to feel that it was a part of my story that I really needed to separate myself from. That I had to hide away from.”

At the time, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) had a character and fitness requirement for mental health. The NYSBA has since removed the requirement, but at the time, Briscoe faced concerns over her family’s mental health history because of her father’s death. 

“I needed to take steps while in law school to essentially prove that I wasn't going to have that same fate. It was really difficult. It made a hard time even more difficult and I didn't know what was happening at the time.”

After law school and working through it, Briscoe realized that neither she nor her father received support in crisis and then she became an advocate, focusing on action-oriented discussions. She shares her story, addresses how to approach those who appear to be “high-functioning” during crisis and - with her family-  talks about the supports needed for survivors of suicide loss. As someone who works for the Salvation Army, Briscoe recognizes the importance of ensuring the most vulnerable are accessing services.

There are more people openly talking about their mental health from the time Briscoe was in law school. 

"We're more apt to share about 'I have anxiety or I went through depression' and that's without the fear of - we understand what that means now a lot more,” Briscoe said.

There are also more discussions about how school curriculums and workplace culture can affect mental health. She added that a lot of the time when there are talks about mental health, the discussions happen when the mental health crisis is over and not as often when the crisis is happening.

“We think of it as a chapter ending when your mental health is a continuous thing to monitor. You could have a good day or a bad day,” she said. “There's going to be loss in life and changes in life consistently and so how we move forward with that, I think that's the next evolution in that discussion that we need.”

Briscoe said that while we’ve come a long way in discussions of mental health, more work needs to be done.

“We've come a long way in accepting that it's something to be prioritized.I think the next step is breaking the stigma down a bit further that being able to have candid conversations in crisis,” she said. “And empowering everyone else is to have those conversations as the one that's being sought out, where you're not the one in crisis but someone can come to you comfortably and you actually feel empowered to have that conversation or at least direct them to where a good resource is.”

Addressing the power of language on social media in terms of discussions about mental health is also important. 

“There's a lot of Instagram therapy and quote therapy I think that happens, which can be very helpful, but it can also be diminishing to the point where a lot of times we say trauma and a lot of times we say toxicity or we say abuse,” Briscoe said. “But we need a better spectrum of words to better address what is happening in that space.”

The isolation that came with the COVID-19 Pandemic also played a huge part in the mental health effects. Briscoe said society went through collective grief through the Pandemic. Right now, society is in the anger stage. 

“We can see it on social media, we see it in our politics. The world changed and we are just in this anger phase and we don't have a lot of outlets or resources to deal with that,” she said. “We're turning on each other, which is difficult, and we're turning to online forums and you get a quick band aid solution because it can get you through that day.”

For those who are struggling, whether it is their own personal crises or as a caregiver for someone going through one, Briscoe said to avoid personifying the situation or making assumptions and instead, vocalize how you are feeling.

“I would constantly talk to a ghost with my dad - 'Oh, he's not proud, he's not proud. I'm not doing enough,’ but when I would vocalize that, you kind of hear the absurdity and you finally get the chance to address it,” she said. “I think being brave and vocalizing 'this is what I'm feeling' and the second it’s out there, you start to have the availability to vocalize it and start looking at it in a rational way and we don’t keep it in this emotional tornado of our minds and adding more kind of what ifs and absurdities to it.”

If you need support for your mental health, call Resilience Huron Perth Mental Health Services 519-273-1391. If you are in a life-threatening crisis, call 911.