Understanding mental health a lifelong journey, says Brock Academic Advisor

Diana deMan (BBA ’06) has been experiencing mental health struggles since childhood, but it wasn’t until a critical experience in her early 30s that she started along a path of self-discovery and understanding.

The Brock University Academic Advisor was diagnosed with generalized depression and anxiety in university. Throughout her studies at Brock and her early career, she experimented with strategies to treat her symptoms, but felt they never improved. The harder she tried, the more difficult things seemed.

In October 2016, deMan was feeling exceptionally low during a drive home.

“I was on the 406 and I thought, I could just drive off the highway right there — just be done,” she said. “That thought really scared me.”

She made it home safely and then made the choice to go to the hospital’s emergency room and check herself in. Thoughts flooded her mind.

“I remember sitting in the hospital and thinking I could stay here, it might be a nice break,” she said. “But as time passed, I started to see the reality of the situation. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be better.”

The on-call psychiatrist recommended a few strategies, including participating in the Niagara Eating Disorder Outpatient Program in Port Colborne.

“It never even crossed my mind to think I had an eating disorder,” she said of her eventual binge eating diagnosis. “My first meeting at the clinic, the staff understood things about me and my choices and were able to explain my situation more than I could. I learned my struggle with food wasn’t a choice or my fault. This new understanding was huge for me.”

After several years of group therapy, deMan was improving but felt something still wasn’t right. She was referred to a hospital psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of 36. The brain disorder affects self-regulation skills and the mental processes that enable people to plan, focus, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

Since her ADHD diagnosis two years ago, deMan has been attending virtual group therapy sessions that help her better understand her condition, how it affects her mental state and how it impacts her life.

“My brain just doesn’t work the same as most people,” she said. “I often experience negative thoughts when my routine is broken. I need to keep lists, set timers and leave myself more time to get through a day. This helps to avoid a downward spiral.”

deMan is very open about her mental health struggles and is thankful to work in a supportive environment. Although she is in a good state of mind most of the time, she still experiences extreme lows.

“The challenges will always be there,” she said. “It’s understanding that my brain gets bored. I need to make mundane tasks fun. Regardless, I am accomplished, and I have faced challenges that most couldn’t. Best of all, I have discovered who I am: a kind, intelligent, thoughtful, funny, determined badass who is always up for adventure.”

Learning to better understand her mental health struggles has also helped deMan provide support for the students she advises. She feels her open and honest demeanor makes her more approachable and her experiences make her more relatable.

When students visit deMan about their academic difficulties, she will often ask about other factors that might be preventing them from being successful and if they are receiving support.

“Academics is truly the easy part,” she said. “When students aren’t able to think clearly and they’re being held back by their own mind, it makes it extremely challenging, if not impossible to be successful in their studies.”

On national mental health awareness days, such as Bell Let’s Talk Day, deMan encourages everyone to speak out about mental health struggles but recognizes not everyone is as comfortable as she is. She suggests colleagues and students to always keep kindness in mind, offer a listening ear and make it known that talking about mental health is welcome.

“People need to talk about it. They need to be believed and heard,” she said. “I will continue to advocate for those who need support, and I will always listen, not only because I’ve been in their shoes, but because I’m still there.”

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