Coming out of the Mental Health Closet


Editor’s Note: As a friend of Brandon, I hesitated posting this, I hesitated reading it. It’s a hard pill to swallow but I applaud his bravery and I am humbled he chose my site to share. Last Night I said It’s always the ones who laugh the loudest hurt the deepest, so scary how true.

Warning: This post includes a frank discussion on mental illness and its effects such as suicide and isolation. If this topic may be a trigger for you Please proceed with caution

The first time I tried to kill myself, I was 15. I lunged through a window in my 5th form classroom and was pulled back by some of my classmates—who subsequently made much fun of the whole debacle. A few weeks later I tried clumsily to swallow a bunch of tablets–Excedrin Extra Strength to be precise. I had a massive stomach ache afterwards, but death was (sadly) nowhere close.

My teenage years were, in fact, a spate of suicide attempts and anxiety attacks. I confided in a friend of mine, whose mother contacted mine. In a fit of rage, my mother burst into my room and declared: “If yuh ever kill yourself, jancrow woulda nyam yuh body. If yuh tink mi woulda gi yuh a funeral, yuh mek a sad mistake.” Without a doubt my mother thought I was being a dramatic teenager in the throes of puberty who was merely acting out because something didn’t go my way.

That quip from my mother has always stuck with me—a lesson that she wasn’t one to go to when my head was all dark.

I had my first nervous breakdown at 19 in the middle of what was then the biggest project of my professional life. It led to me being homeless for four days and were it not for the fact that the project came attached with a hotel room, I would have had nowhere to sleep for those four days. I moved in with one of my ‘uptown’ friends and lived with her family for nine months. Another ‘uptown’ friend encouraged me to seek therapy. LOL—WHAT? Gyal somn dat. Rich people somn dat.

But I was in a dark place, a place where the concept of time changes. A place where there are no days or weeks; only a sharp silence and a everlasting darkness. A place that absolutely breaks one down, strips one bare. A paradoxical limbo; a place of possibilities and sharp realities, of fact and fantasy. A place where one’s “purpose” is annihilated. A place where idealists are raped, a place where hope is replaced with a very sorry kind of wisdom. It is a place where the thought of taking your own life is completely rational. It is a place where you can regret not taking your own life before, a place where you hate the fact that you were even born. It is a place where there is no hope, a place where it physically hurts to even be awake. It’s a place where you stay… unless you get help.

Eventually I got help. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders, placed on anti-depressants and had weekly psychotherapy sessions. They helped, and I thought I was better. At the time I believed this was not only a temporary thing, but also that I had better things to do with my time and money. I was wrong.

Since I decided I was better and stopped my treatments my adult life has become reminiscent of my teenage years. I found myself having anxiety attacks regularly, isolating myself, deleting people and things I enjoyed from my life. Most of all, I have not dealt with several large issues—from death to family—in any real way. The cup finally ran over, again, three weeks ago. I broke down; but this time instead of being homeless I was institutionalized at the Humber River Regional Hospital, Keele Site. There, a lovely nurse named Madge (well, not only her) helped me come to grips with the fact that my ‘issues’ are not just ‘issues’. Depression and anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that require treatment (please note I did not say medication or consulting a pastor who is not appropriately trained).

Day 2 at Humber River Hospital. In the 6 weeks before being admitted, I lost almost 40 pounds. In this photo I weighed 120 pounds. This was due to the fact that I barely ate - on average I ate two or three times per week.

Day 2 at Humber River Hospital. In the 6 weeks before being admitted, I lost almost 40 pounds. In this photo I weighed 120 pounds. This was due to the fact that I barely ate – on average I ate two or three times per week.

I am mentally ill. Wow. It doesn’t make sense… but yet it does.

I have seriously tried to take my own life over sixteen times. I have thought about it an incalculable amount of times. Even more alarming, I have regretted not doing it too many times. I wear a sweater, no matter the temperature, because I am always anxious and fearful that people will touch me. I wear my ‘resting asshole face’ 24/7 to avoid anyone I don’t know asking me questions or thinking I’m friendly because I am literally scared to death of interacting with people, doing something wrong, saying something wrong. It’s why if there’s one person at the table I don’t know, you won’t be hearing from me all night.

Accepting that I am mentally ill is something my family and friends are struggling with. I forced my mother to say it out loud and she stuttered before breaking down in tears. I explained to her that while her behaviour toward me during my childhood might have made my depression worse—it wasn’t really her fault. I understand, now, that my mother and most Jamaicans are of the ‘help-yourself-nuttin-nuh-wrong-wid-yuh’ ilk. This was a foreign thing for her and best dealt with through some concept of tough love.

It is instructive to note that all the black people on the ward with me were of Jamaican descent. One woman repeatedly came up to me saying “Hi daddy, mi a di ugliest bitch alive don’t it?” throughout my entire stay.

We must begin to ‘de-brown’ mental illness in Jamaica. Ironically, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more likely to occur in people who are poor(er?) and more disadvantaged in society. At some point we have to question why all the mental illness events and walks and days are seemingly supported by the same kind of people—‘brown’ and ‘uptown’. Why it is that the conversation about mental illness happens solely in the Golden Triangle. Why it is that the cost for getting help for mental illness is so high. Why it is that there are no support systems in primary and secondary schools to help students deal with the ever-increasing pressure of an archaic exam-centric educational system with a multiplicity of other problems that have a severe impact on them.

Depression is much different from ‘feeling sad’ or ‘being down’. It is a terrible mental illness—and I want you to read that sentence out loud. People who experience depression deal with severe negative feelings and thoughts that become their general routine. This despair affects every aspect of their lives. Those who are so depressed to consider suicide never do so thinking ‘this is the easy way out’; we do so thinking this is the ONLY way out.

Taking your own life is not a trivial matter. It is something that people usually think about for some time before making an attempt. In my own case, when I tried to hang myself from the pull up bar in my room five weeks ago, I thought not of myself but of my friends and family. I thought that I would be doing them a favour by leaving them with a memory of a good friend, and not having them deal with the dark horrible person I thought I had become. I felt like I hit a wall in my personal life with financial and school troubles, and I was absolutely tired of being a burden on the universe. For me it was a selfless thought, a heroic act and even though I am being treated now for my depression, I still regret having been too tall for the noose to do its job.
This is not a call for the government; it is a call for us all to seriously look at our attitudes towards mental illness. How we support our children, siblings, parents, friends and colleagues who are affected by the gamut of mental ailments. It is about us, as a people, being more open to the idea that sometimes we actually do need help and that ‘help’ is not always a case of cultural imperialism or ‘uptown’. It is an open call, for anyone who want to be a better human being, to understand that people who struggle with mental illness need support and love. It is an open call to read just a little literature on mental illnesses and find out how you might be affected by it (either in your own life or that of a friend).

I'm feeling much better. And thanks to my treatment and meds, I not only invited people to my home, but I enjoyed having them there.

I’m feeling much better. And thanks to my treatment and meds, I not only invited people to my home, but I enjoyed having them there.

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Brandon Allwood is a student at York University in Toronto. He is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s National Award for Excellence in Journalism, The City of Toronto Award for Excellence in Community Development, a writer and serial procrastinator. He is mentally ill and lives with chronic depression and anxiety disorders. You can tweet/follow him at @brandonallwood.

Author: Brandon Allwood

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71 Comments

  1. Brandon & Chel, Thank you.

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    • Brandon, I can identify!! Your post helped me a lot!! U r a real inspiration. We need people like u around. Stay strong!!

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    • Brandon if nothing you are one brave soul to write this article. First thing that came to mind was Brandon no not the one I know at least. Fact is depression among young people is at a higher rate than one could imagine and often goes unnoticed. Depression is a serious disease requireing more attention and research, clouded by cultural upbringing, finacial status and views on the issue we fail to realize how it is destroyinh our young prople. I am saddened that you carried such a heavy burden litterally unnoticed. You are here to tell the story that may save someone I task everyone to watch for tne signs of depressionn described in the article and do not take it lightly

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  2. How very brave of you both to share this… and you, especially Brandon. Your life story sounds a lot like mine. One moment at a time. Glad your attempt was unsuccessful. You’re changing lives as we speak.

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  3. So glad you shared my friend. #nojudgementjustlove

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  4. Brandon you know me love you long time and now even more. You are so brave……and brilliant. Be well my friend. Be well ! Thanks Chelan for your bravery as well

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  5. Thank you, both of you, for having the courage to share this. Maximum love respect and blessings to you both.

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  6. Respect for this and thanks for Sharing and posting. Keep strong

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  7. Brandon. We simply cannot do Africa without you it just wouldn’t be the same. Plans are now being confirmed for November so pleeeeeease get well sooooon my friend. And besides you are such a worthy opponent in kalooki. Looking forward to giving you many many (more) double ups! !

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  8. Brandon, I think you mentioned this once before but I genuinely never took it seriously. I feel so bad now knowing that but I’m relieved your getting treatment. This sounds terrible. What a look in.. When my neighbor took his life in the backyard I couldn’t quite understand why someone so young could commit suicide not realizing I myself share this same reaction to depression as with most jamaicans. To know I know and have been friends with someone who’s been going through depression under my knowledge is shocking to me. All in all, my eyes are open and I’m really happy you’re getting better. Love u always Brando! ❤️

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  9. I am so very proud of you Bran. Love you with all my heart and I’ve got you. Always. Close to my heart. Get well soon and remember just how much you have to be grateful for.

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  10. For the past few years that I’ve become acquainted with depression and anxiety, I definitely can say I understand, it’s in my back yard. Stay enlightened and positive. Thanks Mamachel

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  11. Amazing. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. I have so much respect for you for this Brandon. I can’t say get well soon, because it will be a constant effort requiring great will and dedication that may be a lifelong process for you. But I can say “continue to get well” and I wish you every success in your focus and determination. I know so many Jamaicans who have lost their battle against depression or who are losing their battle slowly (family and friends) and I feel so impotent to help. This reminds me that I really am ill-equipped, but I can always be supportive. One love and blessings.

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  12. Thanks for sharing your story, your journey that still continues. It has awaken me and I hope others as well. Let us see how we can now shift gear and try to help at least one young person (or old) who is on the same path.
    Blessings and Gods grace to help you every single step of your journey ahead.

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  13. Like.wow. I am in awe… Thanks Brandon for sharing, i never could quite understand why many people who seem successful take their own life, ive grown up only kmowning that they are cowards and at the height of selfishness but i always felt it was quite not the case. I am happy to have read this and thank you chel for accepting his request to share this, as a close friend i know the ethical hesistation u must have went thru…

    Many lives will be saved thru this brilliant piece of work, probably your finest yet…

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  14. Wow. What a powerful message! Brandon, I can imagine what it took for you to share such intimate aspects of your life and you, sir, are a brave soul. I applaud the fact that you sought help and I thank you so much for sharing. Chelan, I thank you as well for allowing your blog to be a vehicle for this very important message. It touched me in many ways, especially because for a very brief period of my life I battled depression and anxiety. I also attempted to take my own life and at the time thought that my family and this world would be better off without me. Anyway, Brandon, continue healing and keep smiling because the darkness will eventually clear up.

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  15. I read this with sadness. Then I read it again feeling joy, comfort, peace… To have been able to share this is honest
    Brave

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  16. Safe to say I’ve noticed all of this about you over the years. I commend you for your bravery and just know I’ll keep you in my prayers Brandon. Love and light.

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    • Hi Brandon, What you have been through or still going through it saddens me to hear and to know that much is not given to cure this disease. Please stay positive.

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  17. When it’s all said and done what you have said here so eloquently perfectly highlights how our society and our children can get misled when feelings of this nature are ignored. Everyone is “normal” in our society until something happens that says no I’m not. Brandon I salute you and applaud you and encourage that more assistance be offered in our schools regarding emotional health and anger management. Our society is a hurt society we function from broken homes, poverty, brainwashed that brown people are rich, classism and our government does not seem to care. If you dare to push this further and get these things implemented in schools I take charge with you. Together we must unite to give our children a fare chance. Why is therapy/ counseling so expensive that is a great question, why must our children suffer that’s another.
    Our leaders have to shift there focus and realize good grades and accolades can’t save you from the pangs of depression. However trained professionals who actually care can give us a fighting chance!
    Totally thankful you shared totally inlove with your writing style and completely happy your here to share and are doing better! Blessings light love and continued healing and success! Bless you Brandon

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  18. Thank you both for sharing. It really put a whole new insight to depression and mental illness. The reality is that so many persons in our every day life could be suffering from this but looking on the surface, we will never know.

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  19. Brandon, I pray you continue to get well. We take depression for granted and some of us use the word too loosely! “Mi depressed” and we do not understand the magnitude of this illness! Thank you for sharing and for creating awareness. All the best on your journey, Brandon. Thank you for posting, Chelan.

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  20. I’m so happy you’re ok bro. I hope you understand that when its all said and done you are the light in a lot of lives and losing you would be devastatong to the many lives you have impacted with your sarcastic wit and awesome friendship. I really hope that one day you will be able to get completely out of that darkness with the light that shines in from the people that love and respect you. Thanks for educating us on the issue of depression, sometimes we think we do but have absolutely no idea. You are an awesome friend bro always remember that, this is something you have to terms with yourself but never forget that you will never have to do it alone. Bless.

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  21. timely read, thank you guys, that which has been penned mirrors my life 🙁

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  22. Brandon, this is a beautiful article. I wish you well. It is a reality for so many people, and it lends assistance to persons who may be undergoing something similar. I will certainly circulate it.

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  23. depression and anxiety are very real to me and it seems they go hand in hand. thank you so much Brandon. Some people will never understand that depression isn’t just a sad feeling that u can “Shake off” and “cheer up” after a few days or something. They’ll never understand that even waking up and realizing that u actually made it to another day could be such a burden to someone. Thank you so much, maybe this will help to change the way people view people who suffer from depression.

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  24. Thank you both for sharing this story. It was very brave of you to do Brandon and for that I am soo thankful because It came just in time.

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  25. Brandon,
    I read every word of this beautiful article.
    You are a brave and courageous soul. To think you can’t see your beauty hurts me.
    I’m sending positive vibes and lots of love your way.
    Stay strong my brother. You are in my heart, thoughts and prayers.

    Thanks for opening my mind and sharing this story.
    I will move through the world with more understanding and sensitivity.

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  26. Brandon, you don’t know me so you might be giving me “resting asshole face” right now. This is probably the most moving, naked, wide open first-person piece on mental illness that I’ve read…ever. I am so heartbroken at the way some of us in our religious ignorance, and armoured, stone-hearted, learned toughness – at the expense of braveness, fail to access tenderness, compassion and love when it’s most needed. Denial is a beast. Thank you for sharing.

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  27. Astonishing , powerful and unforgettable glimpse into the crippling effects if mental illness. As your journey continues I pray for u to have the strength and will to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Blessings, Peace, Love and Light.

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  28. Brandon,
    Thank you for sharing. I wish for this world that we would understand and appreciate that mental illness exists so that we can help those in need.
    Much love
    Dominique

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  29. Thank u for sharing Brandon. A deep and honest insight into this horrible illness. Keep strong and you have my support

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  30. In remembrance of Brandon Allwood:
    One of my first and strongest memories of Brandon Allwood is filled with the shame of having one of my articles returned to me riddled with red ink.I was in sixth form at KC and he was in lower school. But he was my editor at the Observer TEENage, where I was only a young views writer. All I could do was take my defaced essay, return to my desk, and make the corrections. It irked me that this “little dude” had marked up my paper so badly. After all, I got a ‘one’ in English. But with my pride shattered I surrendered. Years later it was clear why Brandon earned the respect of myself and his other peers. Like all KC men, a deputy head boy at that, he was very confident, bright, witty and a true leader. Easily he could become Jamaica’s next big politician or something dignitary like that. At least in my mind, he could. And it has stayed that way all throughout. Silently he was an inspiration when I was going through college three years ago. Today I strongly respect this “little dude”. I regret that I never said these things to him before, let him know that I’m one of the persons on the outside who really care for his well being. I never knew what he was going through and now he is gone. And he did me no favour by leaving!
    Brandon: FORTIS CADERE CEDERE NON POTEST. Stay brave.

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  31. Just read this story and… mind blown to say the least. I’m thankful that you were unsuccessful in your attempts because I truly do look at you as one of the greater minds I’ve been able to meet. I hope that you will be able to continue to raise awareness and will stay with us to keep fighting the good fight.

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  32. Thanks for sharing Brandon. I’ve been there and I know it’s a disease as real as cancer. Fortunately I have a strong (small) support group that helps SO much but I do know that the dark days are pitch black. So glad to know you’re doing much better :). I found that meds helped me through the first hurdle but my loved ones helped me through everything else. Peace and love <3

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  33. A poignant account, I know the feeling of family dismissing the serious issue of mental illness. I am happy that you have got help and are still with us. your Suicide attempts are failures I am grateful for because your acquaintance, fleeting as it may seem, has had a positive effect on me. keep being awesome

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  34. Brandon thanks for sharing your story!

    I hope you keep up with your treatment and don’t fall back into that dark place again!

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  35. Really good, brave and enlightening piece, keep well Brandon

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  36. So touched and happy that you opened up to share your most deepest & darkest experiences Brandon. It is honourable and pure. I hope it will help others to speak out and for those who don’t understand it will shed some light.
    You know I love and support you always.

    Thanks Chels for sharing this on your blog. Keep on ChellingDem!

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  37. Brandon… words truly fail me at this time, but I am so thankful that you have chosen to share your experience and open our eyes to the world of mental illness. I am happy all your attempts failed as too many of us would have been crushed that we never saw the signs. Continue taking it step by step on your journey to wellness….one foot in front of the other… Bless Uncle Richard

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  38. I can relate to some aspects of this. Go with God Brandon. He’ll only show you the way out.

    Walk good.

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  39. Brandon, thank you for the honesty. I wish you all the best and a successful happy life. I will definitely be reading more on mental health. Knowledge is key! Thank you.

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  40. The reality is – Negative attitudes towards mental illness are fuelled by lack of knowledge.

    Thanks Brandon for sharing your experience, not only with those close to you, but strangers like me in the wider community.

    You’ve been better – thankfully you are still here to say that to people now. Sending healing your way.

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  41. Brandon, we live in a world where many mental health people are misdiagnosed. Juveniles with this problem have no one to turn too. Thanks for sharing. I am hoping your braveness will awake some people.

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  42. I was literally hurt while reading this as a guy that I went to school with and we worked together on the Students’ Council I feel bad that I was helpless but the greatest thing is that you have received the help you wanted, I your pics on fb i just thought Oh Brandon living healthy not knowing it was depression. i am happy your ok now you exemplify the motto ‘Fortis Cadere Cedere Non-Potest’ and i hope u never yield.

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  43. Oh B….just hugs….thank you for your bravery in sharing…..so thankful you are still here with us. Thank you too Chelan

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  44. Brandon thank you for being so brave and sharing your story with us, its given me the courage to speak with someone…the courage to admit something is not right. God Bless you on your road to recovery. Stay strong

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  45. Brandon, Brandon, I am so humbled by the strength of your character; to take time to teach in the middle of your pain. Humbled, praying for you.

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  46. Thank you Brandon for sharing. My father was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as well this led him to become an alcoholic. It is a struggle he has even now that he is retired. While we try to be supportive and understanding we can never truly understand how it feels to be depressed to the point of wanting to take ones life. i respect and applaud you for being so open and honest about what you have experienced and are experiencing. Keep getting help so you can inspire others.

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  47. Thank you so much for sharing Brandon. Your story is an eye opener and my heart goes out to you and everyone else who is going through what you are. You are loved! by others all around and most of all by God. I pray that you hold on to this truth everyday and just keep on keeping on.

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  48. Brandon,
    …. What’s your email address
    Peta-Ann Gray
    Kingston College
    Melbourne days

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  49. Thank you Brandon, for sharing a part of your life with us. This honesty and vulnerability takes serious courage. I’m sure your article has helped many to see a true reflection of the impact of mental illnesses. My prayers are with you. Keep living brother, sending you love, peace, joy and light!

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  50. Brandon, you moved me to tears. I have known you for so long and didn’t have a clue to what you were going through. Just know that I love you and am so proud of you for sharing yourself this way. I hope your story will inspire others who might be dealing with the same thing to find the inner strength you have found.

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  51. Brandon…. Thanks so much for your article and thanks to Chel for having this on her site. You have touched persons in a way I don’t think is even possible to be described by use of the English or any other language for that matter, I thank you from the bottom of my heart again and I wish you all the best in your recovery and re-discovery of your self. One love.

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  52. I have tears in my eyes reading this Brandon. Some of the best times I have had in my early days of the Observer were with you. Still caan forget that May Daze party that you insisted that I had to go with you and how we “dash out” and i still have proof it!
    You my friend have opened my eyes to this thing known as depression… you’ve caused me to now look at the people around me and really try to get to know them and their stuggles. Thank you hon and I pray with all my heart that you get better. Miss you, love you.

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  53. Thank you so much for sharing your story Brandon. I lost my brother to mental illness and watched my parents come terms with the ‘why’, to understand what was going on for him having done all they could. You have brought friends and strangers in and helped us to understand one mind a little better. Best wishes to you on your journey, whatever it my bring.

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  54. Many persons cant find the courage to seek help, much less to share such personal details about their lives with the world. Brandon, you may have just saved a life or two with this message. I admire your bravery, being a voice for issues that Jamaicans tend to trivialize from child abuse to mental health. The world is a better place with you here.
    Love you load & will keep you in my prayers <3

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  55. Brandon, you are a brave soul! You have achieved so much in spite of the demons you have had to fight and are still fighting.It’s a shame that mental illness attracts such negatives in our society instead of the understanding, love, support and professional medical treatment that the sufferer requires. I am so happy to know that you are in a place of recovery and I pray for the very best outcome for you. May God himself give you peace!

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  56. BRAVE. Sir you are brave, I am truly happy you are doing better. This was a very good read and might help some people in need.

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  57. Love Harmony and Balance to you Brandon….

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  58. You’ve always remained one of my favourite students Brandon!:)I’m so very proud of you…

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  59. Thank you for sharing this story. Thank you for being so Brave. The first step to healing is to actually TALK ABOUT IT. It’s also the hardest thing to do. I personally struggled with severe depression and chronic anxiety. Overcoming them took gradual baby steps, but sharing my story with others, especially strangers, helped we immensely.
    A quick introduction…..my name is Stacy-Ann Buchanan and I’m producing and directing a documentary about mental health within the black community. It’s called The Blind Stigma and if anyone is interested, please visit http://www.theblindstigma.com. Our stories need to heard and it’s about time us as a community working in Changing The Stigma.
    Have a blessed day. xo

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  60. Hey bro, I am happy that you shared this article and Brandon you have given the effort to give the tactile and visual images in this article so even me who have not had this issue can sense it. You were always a strong, inspirational and pleasant friend throughout my time I have known you. Stay strong bro and you have helped millions of persons who is experiencing this problem as well just by this article. “Fortis Cadere, Cedere, Non Potest”. Love and respect bro.

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  61. Brandon,

    I don’t know you, but some how I feel like we just had a long conversation. this has been the first time I have read an account of someone’s struggle with depression, and it got so real. Bro I’ve always asked why how could some one kill themself buy you have shown me. I thank God for you your message can save others keep your head up brother you can make it one love. Chellan keep up the work you doing mad respect girl

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  62. Omigosh this is a huge eye opener. I mean, I studied psychology and plan to do further studies but still this story struck me. Shocking, yet true. In Jamaica we really pay no attention to persons who have seemingly persistent and severe bouts of depression. We dismiss the notion of a psychologist saying that is only for rich people or people of other cultures. Many of us think that depression will just go away, work itself out. Just spend a day at the beach and everything will be fine. It is not always that simple. Thanks for this honest story. Sometimes people get so cought up in their own wourld that they do not even bother to think about what another person might be experiencing.

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  63. Brandon, thanks for sharing and being so brave, selfless and inspiring. I can so relate as I struggled with anxiety and depression, including a few suicide attempts for about 20 years. I am proud to say that I now have overcome and have learnt to manage my illness with lots of help from God, medication, Psychiatrists and an awesome Psychotherapist. Today I am 1 year and 4 months off anxiety and depression meds! I encourage you to keep going to therapy and seeking help from God and I know you’ll overcome. Hugzzzz and prayers!

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  64. Brandon, what an eye opener, so many persons can relate to this including myself. Persons fail to understand the true darkness that is depression and because of lack of understanding they don’t take it seriously. I pray that God will help you find peace, you are very brave for sharing your story, thank you my friend and I’m rooting for you Brandon because you have so much to live for. Keep strong and don’t give up.

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