A North Vancouver beauty queen is taking action in an effort to open up a dialogue about mental health issues among local youths.
Christine Jamieson, 21, is the current holder of the titles Miss Charity Vancouver and Miss Coastal Vancouver Beauty for a Cause, earned at the Miss Coastal Vancouver pageant held in Surrey in January. She was honoured for her work to raise more than $2,000 for the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.), as well as for founding Faces of Mental Illness, a project with a mission of erasing the stigma that is at times associated with mental illness.
"Mental illness is something that is really close to me. It's something that I've suffered with, with anxiety and depression, and it's something that a lot of people around me have suffered with," she says.
Jamieson, a Capilano University graduate and current Simon Fraser University student, founded Faces of Mental Illness two years ago, launching a project Facebook page where community members could share their stories and interact with one another.
"My goal is to give back everything that I was given," she says. "I feel like I was given a second chance at life after everything that I went through with my mental illness. I had a really hard time in high school . . . and I feel like nobody should have to go through that alone and I feel like now, I can help people not have to go through it."
As Jamieson was first impacted by mental illness as a high school student, she has recently expanded her efforts to include giving talks to teenagers. She has so far spoken to three classes at her alma mater, Seycove secondary, in North Vancouver and at other schools in West Vancouver, Langley and Delta.
Many people affected by mental illness suffer in silence, she says. By sharing her story, Jamieson hopes to serve as a role model and help those who may be struggling, or who know someone who is, get help sooner. "If we get more people to talk about it, then we get more people to get diagnosed and we get more people to get help and we save lives," she says.
Jamieson hopes those she addresses come to realize that mental illness is as treatable as other diseases and can affect anyone at any time.
"People with mental illness are not 'crazy,' they're not 'insane.' They're your neighbours, your daughters, even you," she says.
Jamieson started competing in pageants a year ago. "I got into it mostly because of my anxiety and (fear of) speaking in front of people. I figured the best way to learn to deal with that was to confront my fear," she says.
She's fared well so far, and is continuing to compete, including at the Sweet Pea Pageant in Delta this weekend.
Winning titles honouring her work to give back to her community and help others is incredibly meaningful.
"It shows that I'm on the right path, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm making a difference in the world that is positive and people are recognizing it," she says.
To connect with Jamieson or arrange to have her give a presentation, contact her via the Faces of Mental Illness Facebook page, facebook.com/facesofmentalillness.