Press Releases


MONTREAL, JANUARY 19, 2015–   The English Montreal School Board and its Mental Health Resource Centre will participate in this year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day on Wednesday, January 28 to create a dialogue about mental health. Laurier Macdonald High School in St.  Léonard will play a leading role when one its students, Eleni Giannakas talks for the first time publicly about her battle with depression.

In 2010, Bell Let’s Talk started a conversation about mental health, and since then momentum has been building toward the ultimate objective of creating a stigma-free Canada.  With support from Bell and Cisco, Olympic athlete Clara Hughes  and her special guests, TSN’s Michael Landsberg and comedian Kevin Breel, have teamed up to deliver a special online webcast aimed at empowering the next generation of leaders. This will occur on from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. on January 28 and aimed at students in Grades 7 to 10 as part of Bell Let’s Talk Day. Schools are being invited to take part.

Hughes, Landsberg and Breel will connect with students from across Canada in an event broadcast live from Jesse Ketchum Public School in Toronto. In this one-hour presentation Hughes and her special guests will share their personal stories with mental health issues and inspire students to join together to help end the stigma around mental illness in five simple ways.  

In order to participate schools will need a computer, projector, screen or smart board and Internet access. A more detailed step-by-step guide will be provided with your confirmation of registration.

Eleni Giannakas is a 16 year old Secondary V student who has been living with depression for a few years now.  It finally became too much and she asked her mom for help. She had cut herself, was suffering with an eating disorder, anxiety and panic attacks and knew how she was going to end her life. Even with medication and therapy she ended up being hospitalized.

“Eleni was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety,” says her mom, Gail Blacker Giannakas, a former EMSB parent school commissioner. “She was in the hospital for over four months. She went back to school last September and re-admitted herself for a week in September and two weeks in December.  She does so when she feels there is no other option but suicide. Somehow she has the courage to continue to take the hard way and fight.”

Eleni has made a video on YouTube, shared her story on Facebook and has decided that she wants to talk to her classmates about mental health. “She wants to share her story and try to break the stigmatism associated with depression,” her mom says. “She wants to reach out to people and show them there is hope. She wants to tell people that you live with depression, but it doesn't have to be your life. Maybe coming from a teenager will think twice before judging someone living with a mental health issue.  Her friends have always been there for her and so has the administration, staff and teachers at Laurier Macdonald.

Gail  Blacker Giannakas says the staff at The Montreal Children’s Hospital Wing 7D and at the Stearns Pavillion of The Douglas Hospital have been instrumental in her daughter’s fight against depression.

“Most people with mental health issues do not seek out the support they need because they fear what others would say or think, and as a result they do not get the help and support usually until the situation worsens,” says Despina Vassiliou, an EMSB psychologist and the coordinator of the Mental Health Resource Centre.   “The fact is that the earlier the intervention the better the prognosis. It is important to engage and educate

youth since 70 percent  of adults who suffer from a mental illness report that their symptoms were present in childhood.  By engaging our youth, we also encourage them to accept differences and provide a more supportive environment for all.”

Clara Hughes

Clara Hughes is considered to be among the greatest athletes the country has ever produced, and the only one anywhere to win multiple Olympic medals in both winter and summer games in speed skating and cycling. But she suffered some hard times along the way. “I went through severe depression,” she told W5. “I don’t know if anyone knows why they end up depressed. But it runs in my family. As an athlete, I had access to care, to support. I didn’t lose my funding. The national cycling team said, take as long as you need, we’ll put you on an injury card. Nobody said I was damaged goods. But that’s not the reality for most people. Because for a lot of people, you get put on a waiting list, and that’s the reality. People need to not be put on waiting lists for months and sometimes years. Lives are lost because of that.”

Now Hughes is an advocate, attacking stigma and trying to convince sufferers to speak up.   She also lobbies on the issue.

Michael Landsberg

Michael Landsberg hosts the popular TSN program Off The Record.  He was diagnosed with severe depression in 1998 and treated the symptoms using anti-depressants for a number of years before a relapse in 2008. “The only place you get any relief is in bed because it’s the end of the day. The toughest thing is talking and socializing,” he said. “Depression makes everything more difficult. I would equate it to weightlifting, where all of a sudden, there’s 100 pounds more. And you can lift it, perhaps, but it takes an enormous amount of energy.”

Kevin Breel

Breel suffers from severe depression.  He says it was not until he sat on the edge of his bed one night three years ago holding a bottle of pills and a suicide note that he decided to reach out for help. “The stigma in our society around depression is very real,” he says. “Ask yourself this: Would you rather make your next Facebook status say you're having a tough time getting out of bed because you hurt your back or you're having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you're depressed? Unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way. Every 30 seconds somewhere someone in the world takes their own life because of depression.” 

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Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213