How Constantina Venetis is Using Empathy and Education to Destigmatize Mental Health

As a part of our ‘My Mental Health Story’ series featuring the inspiring and impactful stories of our community members, we chatted with Constantina Venetis (she/her) to discuss her mental health story.

Check it out below!

Thank you to Constantina for participating in the interview and sharing your story!

#1 Who are you? What do you stand for? What’s your story?

“Constantina is widely known as a ray of sunshine who is kind, compassionate, supportive, giving, caring, spiritual, religious, and a proud Greek Canadian. Additionally, my strong values, such as family, honesty, loyalty, humility, equality, respect, education, awareness, and authenticity, shine through in all aspects of my life.

I believe my ability to advocate for myself and for others who are not able to is a strength and gift that I plan to continue to use. I have shared my lived experiences at public events, interviews, and mental health conferences.

Throughout my life, I have found the strength and motivation to support those around me. It is important for me to offer a safe, supportive, confidential, and non-judgmental space to those around me. Thus, my friends and family members feel comfortable sharing their challenges with me. Through active listening, education, awareness, and a compassionate approach, I have supported individuals in my life. At the beginning of my journey of navigating a mental illness, I felt lost, hopeless, overwhelmed, and alone. This led to suicidal ideations and, many depressive episodes, eventually manic episodes as well.

Last year, I was faced with additional medical health challenges, including a near-death experience. Through this difficult time, I lost my voice. Unable to advocate for my needs due to how physically and mentally sick I was. I never want anyone to feel the way I did, especially this notion of being alone in your struggles.

I have consistently invested a lot of time and energy in my growth and personal development. This has allowed me to support myself through life’s challenges, rely on healthy coping skills, support others I cross paths with through their own journey, and develop a passion for the mental health industry.”

What was the lowest point in your mental health journey?

“My first depressive episode in my second year of university was the lowest point in my mental health journey, leading to my first hospitalization, and I had to take some time off my studies as well to heal. I felt lost, hopeless, overwhelmed, and alone. It was the first time I experienced intense symptoms.”

How did you get through that?

“Due to my hospitalization, I was assigned a psychiatrist (which I still see to this day), and he supported me immensely. So did my family doctors, family members, and close friends.

Additionally, my parents were the biggest supporters in my journey. They listened, educating themselves on the illness, guided me, and reassured me that I will get through this. They did not shut me out or ignore the intense emotions, feelings, and thoughts I was experiencing. I eventually attended individual therapy, which was a pivotal point in my healing, and I felt a huge weight off my shoulders being able to speak to my therapist.

Taking time off school gave me the opportunity to focus on my health, understand myself better, rest, spend quality time with family, and rethink my coping skills.

Once I became more comfortable with my diagnosis, I started advocating for those with mental health challenges. This allowed me to grow, be more confident, and I realized that I am not my illness. I believe we all offer value and something different to this world and those around us.

Exploring this aspect of my identity motivated me during my episode to find clarity in my passions and the life I wanted to build for myself.”

What has changed in your life since you’ve been on this journey?

“I am a third-generation Greek who is proud of my culture and equally proud of the opportunities and openness my family and I have experienced through living in Canada. All of my grandparents immigrated to Canada in their early 20s for a better life, work opportunities, and an arranged marriage. They worked very hard with the goal of setting up future generations for success. My quality of life was a priority before even being born, I recognize the privilege I have given the sacrifices taken by those before me, and therefore, I have the utmost respect and gratitude for my grandparents and parents. In my culture, family comes first, even before self-care. It is selfish to be selfless. It is also uncommon to discuss any feelings that are not connected to happiness and success. The family’s reputation is prioritized, and mental health was taboo when I was diagnosed.

With time, I challenged all of these cultural norms with my immediate and extended family. This was an adjustment for many. For others, they did not embrace my ideas or changes around speaking about our struggles or instead of hiding them. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop me from continuing to speak up, be confident in sharing my story and change rooted norms that do not serve me or even others effectively.

Education is vital to implementing these changes and communicating ideas. I strive to educate my family members on new ways of thinking and the unhealthy consequences of certain aspects of our culture. I recognize the importance of educating myself on other people’s cultural backgrounds and embracing people, no matter their background. Canada is an extremely diverse country, and this allows for a diversity of thought, challenging perspectives, and learning through others. Furthermore, including people in discussions about social issues speaks to my passion and the value for diversity and inclusion in the communities I serve and places I work.”

Do you have any advice for others who are on their own mental health journey?

“Even when there is a dark cloud, with thunder and pouring rain hovering over you, there is still a chance that the sun will eventually come out. Sometimes all it takes is to reach out for support and access resources that are at your disposal.

I believe a synonym for recovery is stability, to reach stability from a mental health challenge; an open mindset, acceptance, and the determination to get better and seek help are required.

I volunteer at Eli’s Place, a registered mental health charity, and our tagline is “Where recovery grows.” To me, this means that recovery is a journey and never truly ends, regardless of where you are in your life. Giving yourself the opportunity to accept the possibilities of therapy, treatment, support, listening, sharing, learning, engaging, and collaborating – this opens the door to growth.

There is no deadline or hard stop to this growth and notion of recovery. It is a cycle of acceptance, love, and respect for yourself.”

What do you wish people understood about what it’s like to struggle with mental health?

“I wish people would understand what it was like to live with a mental illness, specifically how the symptoms affect a person’s daily life. Perhaps this understanding, compassion, and empathy would minimize stigma in the mental health space.

One way to understand an individual’s struggles includes listening to their story with no judgment and engaging by asking appropriate questions. Once we begin to actively discuss this topic with those around us on a consistent basis, I hope people learn more about what it’s like to struggle with mental health.”

Please share anything else you may feel is relevant for our audience.

“I believe human connection was challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with individuals unable to see loved ones and friends, feelings of loneliness present, and the mental health crisis rising exponentially. I have recognized the importance of human connection due to the lack of social connection during the pandemic.

As humans, I strongly believe we are meant to learn from each other, discuss perspectives, challenge each other, and support one another. I live by this. When managing our mental health, social connection is a vital piece to the puzzle, and I encourage everyone to engage in open, challenging, fun, or even vulnerable conversation as one coping skill of many in your individual toolbox.”

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