Episode 14: Jim Demeray- Better understanding the invisible pain and giving mental health a seat at the table.

Jim Demeray is the founder and Executive Director of ‘Understand Us’, a mental health initiative he started in Regina, Saskatchewan.  Jim shares at the age of 26 he was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when he became non-functional after a period of increased stress in his life.  When diagnosed, he experienced fear and shame as the only thing he had been taught about mental health issues was not positive and he thought he would not be able to function as a normal person in society.  But Jim also indicated he had a sense of happiness and joy at being diagnosed, as he now understood that the sense of discomfort he had felt his whole life, had a reason.  He initially sought help from his sister who was a psychiatric nurse and was then diagnosed by his GP, but also went to a psychiatrist to ensure his medications were correct and saw a counsellor to develop coping strategies.

Jim shares with the listeners that vulnerability came naturally to him and when he started to share and reach out for help, he came across four different type of responses:

  • Surprise that he would be the kind of person that would have a mental illness.
  • Thankfulness that he had shared his story and they could now be open with him about their struggles.
  • Resistance or the idea that he was playing the victim or just wanted attention.
  • Dismissiveness that his issues were no big deal and he should just not worry about things so much.

On this podcast Jim also indicates how he came to start the organization “Understand Us”.  His father passed away in 2011, at the age of 58, when Jim was in his mid-20’s.  This started a period of refection for Jim and he realized his dad had likely suffered from depression his whole life but did not deal with it because of the generational idea that men should not be open about their emotions and feelings.  At this time, he also realized that he wanted his life to mean more and he wanted to make the world a better place to live.  With these goals in mind, he set out to help change the perception of mental illness in honor of his dad.  Originally, he was just going to raise money by selling t-shirts and donating the money raised to the Canadian Mental Health Association.  However, his idea spread organically and has morphed into an organization that focuses on education and early awareness of mental health issues.  They are not mental health professionals but do presentations at schools and events sharing stories and starting conversations on such topics as the stigma of mental health and stress management.  They also are involved in awareness campaigns about mental health, run community events and continue to sell clothing to raise funds for mental health.

Jim also discusses his coping strategies for dealing with his anxiety.  He says he is person whose glass overflows quickly, so he uses these analogies:

  1. Slow the drip – control what you can, such as who you spend time with and what you say yes to.
  2. Building a bigger glass – develop resiliency, take small steps, meet small goals and build up your resiliency slowly to things which stress you.
  3. Drain water from the glass – develop a self-care plan and spend time on things that you enjoy or are passionate about in order to decompress.  Take ownership of your emotion and don’t become a victim of them. 

Jim closes the podcast with two take away pieces of advice.  First open-up and be vulnerable with someone you trust.  Don’t be fearful about judgement, it is inevitable but that is not within your control.  Second, suspend judgement until you have the proper context and facts.  We all make judgements, but without asking the right questions we are training ourselves to make uneducated judgements and that is risky. 

Connect with Jim or UnderstandUs:

Website: https://understandus.ca/

Instagram: @jimdemeray or @theunderstandus

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