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A mom's message to families struggling with mental illness: 'There's help'

For families affected by a loved one’s mental illness, support can often be hard to find.

Other times, it’s found in unexpected places.

For Maggie Alanak, that place was Yellowknife City Hall on Wednesday.

“I’m very blessed that I came here and very thankful that I dropped by because I needed help like this,” said Alanak.

Alanak, bearing a tiny trove of traditional, handmade crafts, went to city hall on Wednesday to sell her art – income she uses to help support her family and her son, who resides in a mental health treatment facility in Edmonton.

Moments later, Alanak was helping to hoist a flag – bearing the logo of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign – in front of city hall.

Her impromptu participation came as representatives from the City of Yellowknife, Stanton Territorial Hospital and Northwestel gathered at the steps of city hall to raise awareness about mental health and its enduring stigmas by raising the flag on Bell Let’s Talk day.

Maggie Alanak stands in front of the Bell Let's Talk flag she helped hoist during a blustery winter morning Wednesday. “I felt strong and I felt proud to have raised the flag because I’m a mother that’s been through a lot of stuff with my boys.”
Brendan Burke/NNSL photo

The yearly bid from Bell Canada – Northwestel’s parent company – to get people talking about mental health began in 2010 and sees the telecommunication giant donate funds raised from every text, call or social media exchange that includes the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, to mental health initiatives in the country.

“I felt strong and I felt proud to have raised the flag, because I’m a mother that’s been through a lot of stuff with my boys,” said Alanak.

Living in Yellowknife Housing for three years now, Alanak has found support for herself and her son. But, as she told Yellowknifer, the road to getting help for her son’s mental illness was long and difficult.

After relocating to Inuvik from her home community of Ulukhaktok where it’s “too small, with no help,” Alanak said she was forced to move to Yellowknife in order to receive better access to mental health services and resources.

After entering into housing in Yellowknife thanks to the GNWT’s integrated case management program, Alanak said she decided a long term facility for her son, outside of the territory, was the “best place for him.”

“It’s tough love when you have to deal with these types of illnesses,” she said, wiping away tears. Her adult son, Alanak said, used to reject the help he needed, making matters worse.

A move away from home due to a lack of resources in smaller communities also meant a “loss of culture” for Alanak and her family.

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo
(From left to right) Northwestel’s Paul Gillard, Maggie Alanak and Deputy Mayor Shauna Morgan display the flag, meant to raise awareness about mental illness and enduring stigmas.
Jan. 30, 2019.

But now, she said, her son is “doing really, really well.”

The chance encounter with organizers of the flag raising Wednesday allowed for Alanak to be in a space where she could “just talk.”

Alanak has a message for other families who may still be looking for support.

“I just want to let the mothers know out there that they’re not alone. It feels like we are ... but keep looking and keep trying and don’t give up. There’s help out there, you just have to reach out and find it.”

Deputy mayor Shauna Morgan, who helped raise the flag alongside Alanak, said the city is committed to tackling mental illness by continuing to fund the Yellowknife Street Outreach Program and Sobering Centre in 2019.