Marie Remy wishes she knew more about what her sister, Fabiola Philippe, was going through before she died.
Philippe was 34 years old when she was hit by multiple vehicles on Highway 417 in the early morning hours of July 2, 2017. She had been left there by her boyfriend, who told police that Philippe was intoxicated and that the couple had had an argument.
Philippe suffered from an addiction problem for years, but Remy didn’t learn of her sister’s mental health struggles until she read her autopsy report, which said Philippe had sought help from the Montfort Hospital ER several times and had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
“We didn’t really understand what was going on because all we saw was her addiction, so we didn’t understand that there was a deeper issue there,” Remy said in an interview on Ottawa Morning.
Today, Remy is speaking out about her family’s loss as a way to encourage others in her community to open up about their own struggles with mental health.
The City of Ottawa has designated Monday, March 2, as Black Mental Health Day, in recognition of the stigma that surrounds issues of mental health, especially in some ethnic communities.
In 2018, a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry found that South Asian, Chinese and black respondents were significantly less likely to report mental health disorders or suicidal thoughts than white respondents.
Two years earlier, the Canadian Community Health Survey conducted by Statistics Canada found that black Canadians were 60 per cent less likely than white Canadians to seek treatment because of stigma, fear or poor interactions with health-care providers.
A taboo topic
Remy said mental health issues are rarely talked about in her community.
“It’s such a taboo subject, and not only is it taboo but for a lot of the community, it doesn’t even exist,” Remy said. “So [for them] mental health is not a real thing … it’s a choice. You choose to act this way, you choose to not be present, you choose to go away, and we don’t realize that it’s a deeper issue and it’s a real one.”
Since her sister’s death, Remy has spoken at events to raise awareness about mental health issues in the black community. She’s one of several speakers at an event on Monday at the Somerset West Community Health Centre.
Remy also created a non-profit called Fabiola’s Addiction and Mental Health Awareness and Support Foundation that runs outreach programs in the Ottawa region.
“I hope that we can keep our eyes open to see when others around us are suffering,” Remy said. “It’s really starting the conversation and knowing that there’s help out there, which is something that I didn’t know when my family was going through that.”
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