Mark Farrant has been a witness to trauma many times in his life, but nothing prepared him for what he saw as a jury foreman for a murder trial of a young Toronto woman several years ago.
“It was the complete lack of control you have as a juror over the evidence that is presented to you over and over again. You have a defence lawyer or a prosecutor who just plays all this footage relentlessly. I had images pouring into my head that followed me everywhere I went in life after the trial.”
After the trial Mark thought that those images would fade over time. As a younger man he had seen many people die while volunteering at a hospice during the height of the AIDS crisis. He had coped with the lengthy illnesses and deaths of both his parents. He thought he knew how to handle trauma in his life.
He was wrong.
It wasn't going away. It was intensifying and interrupting everything I did.
“It wasn’t going away. It was intensifying and interrupting everything I did,” says Mark.
“Even when I was doing something mundane like chopping vegetables or walking my dog. I’m walking down the street and I’m supposed to be enjoying a happy moment singing with my three-year-old and instead I am constantly panicked about what’s going on around me and keeping her safe. I would start thinking about whether she was going to be murdered too some day. I didn’t see a way out of it. It was just a horrible realization that this is not going to go away.”
He began to mull over whether it would be better for his kids to have no father instead of a broken one. He began to realize that his life was in danger and he needed help. That lead to a formal diagnosis of PTSD and the beginning of his road back.
“Treatment saved my life,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here without it.”
The coping mechanisms he learned from therapy, which continues to this day, have come in handy during COVID.
He describes one day early in pandemic being in a line outside a grocery store with a group of customers all wearing masks when he started having another panic attack. This time however, he had the self-awareness of what was happening to him and the knowledge gained from therapy to effectively manage his symptoms before they became overwhelming.
Now, Mark has established a not-for-profit organization to provide mental health supports to people on juries across Canada, working closely with the federal government, members of parliament and senators.
No one says it’s not manly of you to get treatment for a broken leg and you should take the pain instead. But we do that for mental health.
“I want to make a difference,” he says. “I want to help provide resources for people experiencing what I experienced and get them the help that I didn’t get initially."
I want to make sure that nobody goes through what I had to go through. As a society we don’t stigmatize someone with a broken leg. No one says it’s not manly of you to get treatment for a broken leg and you should take the pain instead. But we do that for mental health. That stigma is still there. It’s ebbing but it’s still there.”
Mark's story was part of our Not suicide. Not today. campaign in 2020. It remains a powerful story of hope for those living with mental illness.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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