Jayson Pham with Centennial Journalism students Roxana Chiriac, Shelby Morton and Jibril Osman.

Wearing your mental health on your arm: literally

Scarborough's mental health advocate for youth, Jayson Pham, supports Wear Your Label and Project Semicolon

Youth mental health advocate and Carleton University social work student Jayson Pham has spent years trying to bring awareness about the struggles many young people have with anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.

From speaking out on campuses across Ontario, to participating in the Bell Let’s Talk annual initiative, Pham, a PTSD survivor himself, has let his words do the speaking.

But now, Pham is also wearing that advocacy under his sleeve, every day: the little brown and yellow woven bracelet he sports alongside his red string Buddhist bracelet.

It’s a mental health bracelet which he said signifies his struggle with PTSD.

“[By wearing the bracelet] you can say to yourself ‘Oh, look I have PTSD and I can still dignify to myself that I am a survivor,’” he said.

He bought the bracelet from a company called “Wear Your Label”, a youth-led clothing line based out of Fredericton, New Brunswick that makes mental health-conscious clothing and accessories.

Pham said he wears it as a way to express his own mental health and be free from the shame surrounding mental illness.

“Using fashion is such a beneficial way to spread the message of mental health,” he said. “And I find it very fabulous.”

Pham spoke to Centennial College’s journalism students Friday, to discuss his experience with mental illness as well as his involvement in spreading mental health awareness, both publicly and personally.

“Having to deal with the stigma against mental illness– my own recovery was gradual, very linear,” he said.

Pham was near-fatally hit by a car when he was just 15 and consequently suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts.

He said working with the TDSB’s student-led mental health awareness program “Stop the Stigma” inspired him to become an advocate for human rights.

“I can tell my story. And other people can tell their story. And I’m giving them the tools that they need to do that,” he said.

Pham has since been involved with many other mental health advocacy groups, including Jack.org.

“We go to different universities, colleges, high schools, even elementary schools and talk about past experiences so we get these conversations about mental health going,” he said.

Pham also wears his advocacy in the form of a tiny semicolon tattooed on his wrist.

He wears it in support of Project Semicolon, a youth-led movement to bring about mental health awareness and empowerment.

Project Semicolon has created a call to action called “The Semicolon Project.” On April 16, all those with a mental health issue (i.e. depression, anxiety, self-harm, etc.) will be called upon to draw a semicolon on their wrist.

“The semicolon serves as a reminder that you are the author of your life, and that your life shouldn’t be ending right here,” Pham said.

But Pham took it one step further: he got it tattooed.

He said it’s important for him to have the semicolon tattoo so he can look at it whenever he feels the urge to harm himself. He hasn’t told his parents about the tattoo, yet.

“I look at it to remind myself that I’m more resilient than before and am able to pull through,” he said.

“And [as a reminder] that I am the Jayson I am here today.”