Vital People: ‘I nearly lost my life’ — Andrea Paquette is speaking out to help others

Vital People: 'I nearly lost my life' — Andrea Paquette is speaking out to help others

Andrea Paquette has a powerful story and she isn’t afraid to share it.

“I nearly lost my life, I experienced depression and mania, even psychosis where I was believing things, hearing things, seeing things that weren’t there,” explains the Stigma-Free Society president and co-founder.

Andrea was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2010. She tried to end her life and had to be hospitalized twice, but she’s decided to speak out about her struggle to help others.

“I felt in my heart I went through so much tragedy that personally, going through that had to mean something,” Andrea says. “And if my personal story could inspire other people to share their stories and to seek help and to know that they don’t have to suffer in silence, that became my biggest inspiration.”

Andrea started giving presentations 12 years ago — branding herself as the ‘Bipolar Babe‘ and starting the Bipolar Disorder Society.

It was re-named the Stigma-Free Society six years ago to help raise awareness, understanding and acceptance.

“The organization Stigma-Free Society really lifts up the voices of other people’s stories who have lived experience not just with mental illness but facing disabilities or autism and many other things that people are faced with,” Andrea says.

COVID posed a major challenge for the society, which had been doing everything in person.

But pivoting to virtual and developing online tool kits for youth and people in remote communities has also helped expand the society’s reach.

“We can reach youth in all parts of B.C. and even Canada so we saw opportunity in COVID,” Andrea explains. “So many people are suffering and the conversation has become more normalized and for that, I’m thankful we can talk about it more and be more open.”

Andrea says there’s still a stigma when it comes to mental illness — which is why the Stigma-Free Society is looking to expand with a new national strategy.

“I feel like I was given a second chance, having almost not made it after taking an attempt on my life, and now having a full, beautiful life,” she says. “I just want people to know from my personal experience that things do get better, and there is always help, and there is always hope.”

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