Dexter Roberts was confused and helpless when he experienced his first depressive episode nearly six years ago. No longer did he have the energy or willingness to lift himself off his couch for most of the time during a four-month period.
Things returned to normal, eventually, but just briefly as the demoralizing spells interrupted his life for the next three years.
In 2007, Roberts almost fell off the line. Diagnosed as HIV-positive a decade ago, he quit using his medication, missed important doctor appointments, ceased eating and working and avoided leaving his home for fear that he might run into somebody he knew. He was too embarrassed to face the world and thought about committing suicide.
“There is no history of mental illness in my family, so this was something new to me,” said Roberts, who was presented with a Transforming Life award last week. “Also, I had a lot of responsibility growing up and I was always in charge and helping people. Suddenly, I was the one needing help and it was difficult for me to reach out and make that call.”
With the aid of a psychiatrist, Roberts enrolled in a 16-week outpatient program that helped him to manage his illness.
“We had about 10 people in the group and we were all bright people trying to figure ourselves out and get back on track,” he recalled. “That program helped me.”
Roberts, who was born in Montreal to Guyanese parents, says he’s now back on top of the world and fully enjoying life.
The accomplished musician is pursuing Social Work studies at George Brown College with the aim of helping people of colour and those from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Transsexual communities (LGBTT) cope with various stigmas. He plans to enter Ryerson University’s Bachelor of Social Work program after graduating from George Brown.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recognized Roberts and four other survivors with Transforming Lives awards for showing courage and determination in the face of mental illness and addictions, achieving personal successes and serving as models of hope and inspiration for others facing similar circumstances.
“This award gives me the opportunity to help those in the Black and other visible minority communities understand what mental illness is,” said Roberts who was raised in Sudbury and Brockville and studied Music at the University of Tours in France. “In some of these communities, people don’t like to talk about these things. I consider myself to be in a position of leadership to do that. As a gay male and someone who was afflicted by mental illness, I want people to know they can still live a rewarding life.”
Roberts is a regular volunteer at the LGBTT Resource Centre at 519 Church St. and is actively engaged in the Pride 2010 Toronto 40 Plus Committee.