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Young woman shares her mental health challenges to help others

Twenty-seven-year-old Ashley Duncan has coped with mental health challenges most of her life. And she will proudly share both her struggles, and how she copes.

"I have a mental illness, and that's ok! One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, yet we're so scared to talk about it, about the stigma around it," Duncan said.

"I have experienced childhood depression, and I developed anxiety in my early 2's - a lot of this being after a major car accident that I had."

Duncan credits yoga with bringing her back from a dark place.

"Rock bottom for me was losing my relationship, my job, my car, my house, and just feeling as though there was nothing left. I was completely empty, and there was no part of my soul that was truly happy anymore," Duncan said.

"The following weekend I started my yoga teacher training, and I can just remember my first meditation, and tears streaming down my face, as all of these emotions released."

Now a yoga teacher, she talks openly about her mental health struggles in her classes to let others know, if they are struggling, they are not alone.

Ranj Bains, the owner of Oxygen Yoga and Fitness Saanich, where Duncan teaches, says that "she shares her journey, her story, and just from testimonials that other members have written, she has this one-on-one connection with them. It's been amazing."

And members who attend Duncan's classes agree.

Oxygen Yoga member Dianne Johnston is a nurse.  "I work for the Department of Defense, and so I've had a lot of experience in mental health and mental wellness," Johnston said.

"It's opened dialogue with other people in the class, and I think any way you can demystify it, it's just a good thing."

Duncan's openness resonates with member Molly Atkin. "Being really honest, and authentic, it's helped me do the same, so I really appreciate it. She's touched me incredibly."

Michelle Gilbertson says that when Duncan begins the class "she always has like a saying, or a poem, or a reading, or something that she brings into the class, and that...it speaks to me."

"I think that anybody that has been touched by mental health [challenges] in any way can relate to her and what she brings to the class, and what she provides to the students" adds Sandra Skene.

But getting people talking about mental health is just one of Duncan's goals. She is also determined to help communities around the globe, doing humanitarian work.

"My first overseas trip was in Nepal after the earthquakes in 2015," Duncan said.

In October of that year, Duncan flew with a team to Nepal to help build a school. She'll be helping in Thailand and Cambodia this December.

"I've already received a bunch of school supplies, and lightly used toys, and yoga mats to bring down there.  I'm hoping to send a shipment before I even go down," Duncan said.

"I'm also going to apply for a grant with Yoga without Borders. I'm trying to initiate one of their campaigns they started in 2016 called Pads Matter."

Ranj Bains is very proud of her employee. "She actually is going places. This girl is not just a yoga teacher, she has got a whole path ahead of her."

Duncan hopes that by opening up about her mental health challenges, she might help others get through theirs.

"We're all people. We go through struggles in our life, and to be treated like you are 'less than' a human being because you suffer from a mental illness is the way that society treats us.

"Just because I don't have a broken leg, and you can't see me struggling, well, I'm struggling internally, and it's just as debilitating.

"We're all very intimately connected, and we don't even realize how great that is, but if we can't accept ourselves, we have a hard time accepting others."

Learn more about Duncan's humanitarian work here.

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