Mental health played a huge role in my life. Having a brother diagnosed with Autism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was definitely a challenge to overcome for my family. Every day was different with a new problem to deal with. I will admit, it was not easy. My life became my very own battlefield; adjusting to my brother’s medical conditions, listening to all the negativity from our Tamil community, dealing with the insensitive comments and uncomfortable stares from crowds.
It was the most infuriating feeling, it felt as if the whole world was against me for having a brother with a mental health condition. Over the years I realized I had to accept the world for what it is, and there was no point wasting my energy on an ignorant society. I decided to use my personal experience and passion for mental health as motivation to help and educate individuals and families overcome this negative stigma attached to mental health and disabilities. I wanted to use both my privilege and the oppression I faced in society to shape my views of mental health. I have started my journey here at Annai Thantha Illam to work with individuals with mental and physical disabilities and provide their caregivers with support and it has been an amazing year.
ATI Foundation creates an inclusive and warm environment for individuals with mental illness and disabilities to lead a successful life. These individuals at ATI have extraordinary talents and they are truly gifted in their own ways. I feel truly blessed and thankful to have had an opportunity to meet these individuals and watch them grow throughout our program. Most importantly, these kids have an amazing support system at home as their parents are their backbones and are incredibly helpful and understanding. Due to my personal experience with mental health, I have become very attached to these individuals here at ATI.
We have implemented a workshop called “Hidden Talents” within our program. This workshop allows clients to showcase their talents in various forms of art. We found that a common interest that majority our clients share is music. One of the clients I have grown very close to is Abirami. Abirami’s passion for music is out of this world. She is ATI’s very own personal radio. She will sing all your favourite songs at your request. Abirami surprises me each week with a different song. Her excitement when singing, brings the biggest smile to my face.
When growing up my mother always said, “these children have the most innocent hearts”. My time at ATI helped me realize how true this was. I strongly believe there is always a happy ending for everyone but some people just have a few more obstacles along their way to reach their happiness. Working at ATI for a year has been an amazing experience and I am very grateful to be a part of these individuals' lives, as I am looking forward to hear all of their success stories in the future.
Mathangi Thavendirarajah is currently studying at Ryerson University for Bachelor of Arts, Social Work. She is extremely interested within mental health and disabilities as has personal experience of having an older brother diagnosed with Autism. Mathangi hopes to work with children and their families dealing with mental health as her long-term goal.