Alicia's Journey

16 years ago, Alicia was in school. At the age of 13, most of her classmates would have told you that she wasn’t going to make it.

“I would have also told you I was not going to make it,” Alicia said. “Because 16 years ago, I was suicidal.”

For Alicia, being depressed felt like being a victim of a home invasion with her sense of self locked behind doors in a basement. She felt hopeless.

Coupled with how society treats those with mental illness, Alicia felt like a superhero fighting in the darkness alone at night, not telling a soul. “There’s a lack education, especially in some communities where mental health awareness campaigns haven’t broken into,” she explained.

Alicia Raimundo 

This was the case for the Portuguese community in Alicia’s small rural hometown. She decided that suicide would be a selfless act – a way to unburden her parents who struggled to understand. Alicia didn’t even fully realize she was dealing with anxiety and depression and feelings that she could talk about. It led her to a place where she suffered in silence for a very long time, with things getting progressively worse.

It took Alicia considering suicide to get her an appointment within the mental health system.

When she sought help, she was met with a system that couldn’t provide any. It took her seven years to get into a mental health program and when she did, she found it outdated and unhelpful. “These programs aren’t designed with youth and families so large swaths of it aren’t relevant.”

But there was a moment that did resonate with Alicia when she was in the hospital – another patient, who gave her a necklace that said ‘hope’. “Healthcare professionals couldn’t get through to me, but [that patient] could.”

It made Alicia realize that peer support was crucial. “It’s a different kind of support; it’s an army we can mobilize quickly.” Unfortunately, it just doesn’t exist in the way that it should currently.

It took seven years from hospitalization until Alicia got into a mental health program. “I just didn’t check all the right boxes and I wasn’t ‘sick’ enough to get into the right program.” Up until that point, Alicia’s main supports were e-mental health, community-based resources and online forums.

The services that were presented to Alicia failed to help her because she couldn’t relate to them. Alicia could see that the programs were outdated and not co-created with families and youth. “Large swaths of it aren’t relevant or are belittling. Even a youth-based program wasn’t an accurate depiction of what youth life is.”

When Alicia entered university, she was able to see things beginning to change for herself. She began to work in mental health, using her lived experience as insight.

Alicia now believes we should be doing better and building better things. It is one of the reasons she joined Frayme’s Advisory Committee on Youth Matters (AYM). She is now one of the youth leads for the committee, one of 12 youth helping to guide Frayme’s priorities and projects.

“My journey isn’t unique to me. It’s a long journey and a lot of people die along it.”

For Alicia, that number of people is quite high, having lost 14 friends who were all on waitlists and had asked for help but fell through the cracks because of a system that suffers from chronic underfunding and the lack of knowledge exchange.

“If we don’t change the system, it will continue to kill people,” Alicia said.

Alicia believes that knowledge-sharing networks like Frayme are a key part of the answers. “All these people are fighting to stay alive and we need programs and policies like Frayme that make the fight easier.”

Alicia wanted to open up about her lived experience because she had four friends who died from suicide in the same year and remembered thinking at one of the funerals that maybe if she had said something they would have known that they weren’t alone. “I wanted everyone who came into contact with me to know they aren’t alone.”

Alicia had her first speaking engagement in 2010 and volunteered for mental health advocacy organization which encouraged her to use her lived experience as an expertise.

“What I experienced wasn’t weakness. It could inform change.”