Jason Finucan, Inspirational speaker on mental health, empowers others through experience with mental illness

This piece originally appeared in The Suburban, Quebec’s largest English weekly newspaper, on Dec 16, 2015. By Mike Cohen. Link here to read it on their site.

Empowering others through experience with mental illness

St. Lazare’s Jason Finucan first experienced the symptoms of clinical depression in 2003, at a time in his life when he should only be feeling joy. He was recently engaged, thriving in a new career at McGill University, and at the start of another beautiful summer in Montreal. Life was good.

Stigma and discrimination, as Jason says, “… are the only challenges faced by everyone suffering from mental illness that we have the power to eradicate. For me, it first appeared in the form of self-stigma. I realized that I had been quietly judging those in my life who suffered from depression as having a lack of motivation or discipline — a character flaw that I never understood, didn’t respect and certainly couldn’t relate to. Not something I could possibly have.”

Jason’s self-stigma was so strong that for nearly two years he refused treatment and actually tried to will himself back to health (as though that was a viable option). But ultimately, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. After finally letting go of stigma, Jason’s first step was to treat his illness properly – as a medical illness that required attention, research and, ultimately, treatment. This approach lead to a successful return to full health within six months and, for the vast majority of the days since June, 2005, he has been living well, free of symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.

However, the challenge of stigma continued, as it reared its ugly head in a second, external way. This time it came in the form of confusion, discomfort, judgement and at times outright discrimination in the minds of those around him – not only those in his professional life, but also those in his social life and family. This is when Jason, who overcame a major heart defect with successful open heart surgery when he was 12-years-old, had an epiphany.

“All of the support, unconditional love and empathy that came my way when my heart wasn’t working was nowhere to be seen now that my brain was failing,” he says. “So I started to speak out, initially as a volunteer for AMI Quebec and other local organizations dedicated to helping mental illness sufferers. My message was, and still is, very simple: stigma continues to exist regarding mental illness because of fear and a lack of understanding. It may well be innocent, but it doesn’t belong. And education is the first step toward eradicating it.”

By early 2015, Jason had delivered over 30 volunteer presentations on the topic of breaking down the barriers of stigma and helping manage the impact of mental illness through support, education, guidance and advocacy. These educational lectures have positively impacted students of Montreal-based high schools, CEGEPs and universities.

It was on this foundation that Jason founded Empower Professional Services to partner with organizations, educational institutions and foundations so they may improve their ability to manage the negative impacts of mental illness – ultimately reducing stigma and minimizing lost productivity.

As an active member of CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) and GFS (Global Federation of Speakers), Jason is an experienced and dynamic speaker with the ability to profoundly impact audiences.

As Jason says passionately, “We have an opportunity to learn how to speak of mental illness in only the terms used for other illnesses, where we feel empathy and offer support towards the person affected. If you know someone who suffers from a mental illness (and statistics say that you probably do) or if you suffer from one yourself, be a part of the effort to clean up our act. Stigma is a terrible word, born out of fear and ignorance. Let’s get rid of it.”

For more details log on to www.empowerproservices.com.