Dexter Nyuurnibe knows how damaging the silence surrounding mental illness can be—so he decided to speak up. The NSCC broadcast journalism student has presented at schools, universities and even given a TEDx Talk.
This year, Nyuurnibe will be the MC for the Jack Summit, an event which brings 200 students from across the country together in an effort to change the conversation about mental health. Nyuurnibe spoke with The Coast about his own struggles and how hard it can be to ask for help.
When did you start struggling with mental health?
I would say that the earliest time when things really started getting bad was actually university. There were times in my childhood where I definitely noticed certain things, but definitely in university when I was studying at St. FX. I was there for three years. I dealt with a lot of issues financially, academically...the stress and pressures of all that came to a head, I guess, in my third year.
Were you able to reach out to anyone at that time?
No. You see, that was specifically one of the reasons why I decided to start speaking up and talk about mental health—to admit that, I guess. Because no one was talking. There was just silence.
I watched your TEDx talk and you were quite open about the fact that you did try to take your own life. What was your health like leading up to that point?
It was bad. Generally, when people ask me how it feels to be in the particular position I was in—dealing with depression—most other people would be able to see the sun. I would see it, but I would not be able to feel it. It was just emptiness. And there was a complete and utter fear at the same time of it, that if I did talk to other people about it, I would be shunned.
When you did get help, what challenges did you face in the health system?
They diagnosed me with, at the time [of my suicide attempt], major depressive disorder. But trying to get help afterwards was not easy. I mean, to see a counsellor maybe once every couple of weeks or something like that, because I was out of the school system at the time. So, having to deal with that—or, even if I went to an emergency room, having to wait hours.
There’s been a lot of talk, in the past few years especially, about mental health stigma. Have you experienced stigma?
I think stigma, at one point in time, definitely came from myself. Because there’s this common misconception by men and the way society defines masculinity, that we are not supposed to show weakness. Did I receive people stigma from other people? Yes, of course. It is what it is.
How did the university deal with it?
Let’s just say this: St. FX is doing better.
What are your thoughts on mental health support in the black community?
The way I would go to receive services would probably be different from you going to receive a service. I felt that I couldn’t completely connect with a counsellor that I had before, because she didn’t really understand the cultural nuances of why I supported my father, despite a lot of things. I really don’t think there’s much support out there on that account.
What do you think we can do to be making things better?
I think mindfulness is a big, big thing. Be mindful of our language. I’m going into broadcast journalism, and sometimes in media you’ll come across something that says “they committed suicide.” It’s not a crime.
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