Bell Let’s Talk Day is Wednesday, Jan. 30. The annual fundraiser is an opportunity to raise awareness, combat stigma, share resources and support mental health initiatives across Canada.
Meet Natalie Harris – a graduate of Georgian’s Advanced Care Paramedic program (2011), recognized mental health advocate and proud Bell Let’s Talk ambassador.
For more than 13 years, Natalie worked as an emergency first responder. She attended thousands of calls, resuscitated six patients who were clinically dead and delivered two healthy babies.
However, not every call had a positive outcome. One particular instance involving the brutal murder of two women haunted her for years. Natalie eventually fell into a deep depression, accompanied by an addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol – a story she courageously shares in the CBC documentary After the Sirens.
Following a failed suicide attempt, she founded Wings of Change, a peer support group for first responders. The organization now has more than 20 chapters across Canada.
“I want to break down the barriers of mental health by telling my story and encouraging others to tell theirs,” she says. “I want people to know it’s ok to ask for and receive help.”
Natalie lobbied for the creation of Bill 163 and Bill C211, which created a provincial and national strategy around post-traumatic stress disorder. As part of the process, she met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and testified before the Standing Committee of Health.
She produces and hosts Brainstorm, a podcast that discusses mental health issues, is a contributor to Huffington Post and Canadian Paramedicine Magazine, and works as a reviewer for paramedicine textbooks.
In addition, she wrote a book detailing her experience called Save-My-Life School, which reached #2 on Amazon’s Hot New Memoir list in 2017, and included a foreword written by six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes.
Natalie has helped train the next generation of paramedics, teaching at Georgian and Sunnybrook Centre for Prehospital Medicine, and worked as the training co-ordinator for the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services.
In 2018, she officially retired from her paramedic career. She’s serving the community in a new way as a recently elected city councillor for Barrie. Natalie’s main focus is to improve the city’s urgent mental health care system.
You can be part of the mental health conversation. It’s easy! For every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view and use of its Facebook frame or Snapchat filter on Jan. 30, Bell will donate 5¢ toward mental health initiatives.
Check out Georgian’s mental health and wellness page for college and community supports.