As an aspiring bodybuilder, Chad Morris is no stranger to carrying heavy weights.
But what you wouldn’t know by looking at him is that he carries other weights with him at all times. Only these weights he can never put down.
Morris suffers from mental illness and addiction. At the end of September this year, he attempted suicide by chewing a handful of lorazepam pills and shooting a lethal dose of cocaine into his arm.
After an hour with the drugs in his system, he made a Facebook post saying it was the end for him. Fortunately, one of his friends saw the post and called the police, saving his life.
This wasn’t the first time Morris tried to take his own life. For him, depression, addiction and attempting suicide had become a cycle, stemming from a lack of mental health resources that he says led him to self-medicate with drugs.
And though he admits addiction contributed to his mental illness, Morris says he has suffered since he was 16-years-old. Even then, long before drugs, he says he used to get worked up and break down crying over simple things.
The first time he attempted suicide he was 27-years-old, and since then, he has exhaustively tried everything he could to find help. He’s been to rehab, seen psychiatrists and psychologists, called distress centres and checked himself into hospitals, only to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression again and again.
The support he needed just wasn’t there.
The reason, he says, is because there aren’t enough resources dedicated to mental health care — a problem that seems to follow Morris everywhere, adding to the invisible weight on his shoulders.
He was a patient of the Canadian Mental Health Association for more than 12 years, but was let go when he seemed to be doing better, being told other people needed the help more than him.
At hospitals, he would be sent home when they ran out of space.
When he called distress centres, he says the lines would sometimes have such high volumes of callers that he would get an answering machine, and that when he was feeling suicidal, he wouldn’t bother leaving a message.
Even when somebody did answer, he says they would just call the police, who weren’t trained to deal with mental health crises and would treat him like a criminal for trying to seek help.
In Niagara Falls, where Morris lived for most of his life, he says there are long waiting lines for psychiatrists, and though there are mental health programs offered, they only run a few hours a week — not nearly enough for somebody like Morris, who struggles daily, at all hours.
And perhaps worst of all, wherever he did manage to find help he would have to tell his story all over again because information isn’t shared between various independent help centres.
Morris says it was the same story all over the city, which led to a sense of hopelessness, making him to feel there was no way out besides suicide.
“I was tired of being bullied. I was tired of people not taking suicide and mental health seriously,” said Morris.
“I wanted my death to mean something.”
But now Morris says he can see a change on the horizon.
After Morris’ latest suicide attempt, he checked himself into the Niagara Health System hospital in St. Catharines, where he stayed for three weeks recovering. It was there he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD and put on the proper medication — medication he says is changing his life for the better.
“Now at the age of 40 I can finally read and concentrate,” said Morris.
“I’m not illiterate by any means. When I say that I mean I can now read a paragraph and not have to read it over five times to comprehend what I’m reading,” he explained.
He says the support he received in St. Catharines changed the way he thought about mental health care, and highlighted a need for more resources to be dedicated to Niagara Falls.
From the hospital, he started advocating mental health support on his Facebook profile.
While he was there good news came his way.
He learned that Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates is bringing forward a motion to form a unified ministry for mental health and addictions in Ontario.
Furthermore, it was announced that the planned Niagara Falls Hospital promises to have state-of-the-art facilities with dedicated mental health programs.
He says after seeing the progression of mental health care in St. Catharines, he has hope that the new hospital and proposed ministry will bring better support to those who suffer from mental illness in Niagara Falls.
“The first time I was in a psychiatric hospital was probably about 15 years ago, and it’s night and day already.”
“We’re actually making turns in the right direction,” says Morris. “Do I think we have a lot further to go? A hundred per cent. We still have light years to go. Ten years from now, we’re going to laugh at the medical system today for mental health.”
But even with a long road ahead, Morris says he is “pumped” about the new changes, and now that the right support is finally becoming available, he’s dedicated to helping break the stigma surrounding mental health so people don't hesitate to go seek help.
He wants people to know how just how widespread the problem is.
“We’re just starting to break the ice. We’re losing lives every day and (suicide) is comparable to, pretty much cancer,” says Morris.
“Everyone you know will at some point be affected by mental illness,” says Morris. “Whether it’s their family or friends, brothers, sisters or nephews. We will all know somebody who struggles.”
He says part of the problem is that too many people suffer silently because they’re afraid to admit they struggle, out of embarrassment or fear of what people might say. And more often than not, you can't spot mental illness.
“If you talk to me face-to-face, you wouldn’t even know there’s anything wrong with me,” says Morris.
“Half the people that are going to read this are going to pat me on the back, and half are going to make fun of me.”
Regardless of what people say, he says he will continue being vocal about his experiences anyways. He says “embarrassment isn’t going to help anybody.”
He says that's why he's now making his story as public as he can, to show others, especially men, that everybody is vulnerable to mental illness, man or woman, big or small.
He says wants to help put an end to the way people once viewed mental illness.
“You know how many times I’ve had people tell me ‘why are you crying? Just go kill yourself.’”
“Could you imagine telling that to somebody with cancer? You would never. But because they have a mental illness or because they’re crying and you don’t understand it as much as you would if it were to be cancer, it’s become acceptable to say that.”
“I just want people to start living,” says Morris.
“I’m scared of how many people we’re going to lose.”
Morris is now out of the hospital and has moved to St. Catharines to be close to the hospital there, where he can receive the treatment he needs.
His hope is to one day return to Niagara Falls when the right mental health support is available. Until then, Morris plans not to let any of his weights bring him down again, and to help take some of that weight off of others.
UPDATE: We're currently working on a story about Chad Morris after the sad news that he took his own life in October.