Content warning: self-harm and suicide.
Finding mental health support isn’t always easy. And nobody knows that better than 24-year-old Danni.
At only 13, depression took hold of Danni’s life. Between grieving the loss of a loved one, wrestling with their gender identity, and feeling isolated at school, Danni felt like they were slowly losing themselves.
Some days, Danni turned to writing, sketching, and painting to relieve their pain. But on bad days, they often turned to maladaptive behaviours to cope, including self-harm.
Danni’s parents did what they could to support their teen. Yet the path to accessing youth-focused mental health services is often unclear, hard to navigate, and time-consuming, making a tough situation even worse.
Like Danni, far too many youth face overwhelming hurdles keeping them from the help they desperately need. Across Canada, only one in five kids receive appropriate mental health support—the very help that could save their lives.
As Danni reached adulthood, it became harder and harder to function. They struggled to hold a job, maintain relationships, and keep up at university.
“All of this eventually led to me being overworked and burnt out,” said Danni. “This is when my mental health deeply suffered.”
Eventually, Danni dropped out of university. And soon, life went from hard to frightening. On several occasions, Danni was hospitalized for their mental health. They even began thinking about ending their life.
But just as hope was running out, Danni found the support they’d been looking for.
In 2017, NorWest Co-op Community Health launched Huddle—a new model of youth-centred health care, made possible with the help of United Way Winnipeg donors. At Huddle, youth can find all the services they need under one roof, from mental health and addiction counselling to career advising and housing support.
Danni began attending therapy regularly at the newly opened youth hub. And with the care and guidance of their counsellor, Danni began to heal.
“She was making me work through hard things I couldn’t have on my own,” they said. “I don’t think I’d be where I am now without her.”
Gradually, Danni began coming to Huddle even when they didn’t have counselling appointments. Whether it was to use the computer or make art, Danni felt pulled in by the warm, friendly, and inclusive environment.
“The staff were very welcoming, and I just kept going back,” Danni said. “To have a safe space where I didn’t have to worry felt so refreshing.”
As Danni ventured further in their healing journey, they began dreaming for the future again. When Danni felt ready to return to university, a Huddle staff member helped them with everything from the basic process to proofreading scholarship essays.
Dani also came out as non-binary later that same year.
“I’ve noticed my mental health has been a lot better since living as my authentic self,” they said.
Then, at the age of 24, Danni was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“It made everything make sense,” they said. “I now take medication that’s catered to my diagnosis and for the first time in my entire life, I feel like I’m thriving.”
Today, Danni feels they are worlds away from the life they once had.
They now work as a part-time tutor at Community Education Development Association while studying at the University of Winnipeg, double majoring in Urban and Inner-City Studies and Creative Writing.
With a passion for giving back, Danni also joined the NorWest Youth Advisory Council and the United Way Youth Hub Council to help guide future programming, including the launch of five new Huddle sites. It’s been rewarding to help grow the programs that helped changed their life.
“I’ve seen many of my friends struggle more than ever before because of the pandemic,” Danni said. “If my input can change things so even one more youth can get the help they need, I will be extremely happy.”
Next year, Danni will also be taking part in an exchange program in the United Kingdom, a place they’ve always dreamt of visiting.
“If you had asked me five years ago where I’d be in 2022, I would not have had an answer for you. I’ve grown so much over the years, and I wouldn’t have been able to without the safe space and services that Huddle provides.”