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'Helping other people is saving my life'

Melissa Cutler battles depression by cheering others
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Melissa Cutler is thoughtfully packing Christmas gift bags for mental health clients, inpatients at SAH, Dec. 19, 2016. Darren Taylor/SooToday

For Melissa Cutler, the best way to tackle depression is to make the lives of other people happier.

Cutler, 23, told SooToday she has battled anxiety and depression since her early high school days.

But over the past two years, Cutler has poured her energy into volunteering for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Sault Ste. Marie office at 386 Queen Street East, organizing fundraisers to support the agency’s services.  

“Sometimes people are scared to talk about mental health and mental illness because there’s a lot of stigma around it, and people are afraid to talk about it because they think they’re going to get judged or discriminated against,” Cutler said.

“I decided to start talking about it more, and I wanted to raise more money to help fund services like the counselling services they have here (at CMHA).”

And raise money she has!

“Melissa has raised over $10,000 for us, just by herself,” enthused Lisa Carricato, CMHA mental health educator.

“She’s a very good example of what one person can do.”

“I like to volunteer my time and if people need help, I look to direct them where they can get help because I know how it was, being stuck, thinking no one’s there to help you, it’s a terrible feeling,” Cutler said.

Cutler told SooToday she has been hospitalized for mental health reasons in the past, feeling very alone, during past Christmas seasons.

Often, depression strikes people hardest at Christmas, when people who are isolated look on as families and friends celebrate this time of year with each other.

Though she has family members elsewhere in Canada, Cutler said she wants to stay in Sault Ste. Marie, stating her support group is in this city.

Inspired by her fundraising efforts, including a July 2015 event which saw hundreds of people receive tattoos at a Trunk Road parlour in support of Project Semicolon (to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness), O’Sullivan Funeral Home stepped up to pay for this year’s Christmas dinner for CMHA's Hope House Club 84 members at Grand Gardens on Dennis Street.

The fee for the members' Christmas dinner would normally have been $10. 

Cutler, from her own savings account, is also thoughtfully packing 130 Christmas gift bags stuffed with both practical items and treats, 100 for Club 84 members, another 30 for inpatients at Sault Area Hospital’s mental health unit. 

The gift bags were scheduled to be distributed at the CMHA Club 84 members’ Christmas dinner Thursday Dec. 22, and to SAH.

“Melissa is known quite well in our community and because of that people respond to her, they’ve reached out to her and say ‘if you’re ever doing an event again let us know, we’d like to help you,’” Carricato said.

“It’s difficult from our perspective when we’re fundraising, asking for donations, but people are contacting Melissa asking ‘what can we do, what can we give you?’ so it’s been wonderful.”

“I think Melissa is an amazing young woman, she has so much strength…she is such a valuable asset to our community, to our agency, to anyone she meets,” Carricato said.

Cutler, who said she battles mental illness “every day,” stated she does take medication to assist her, but emphasized the best medicine is to brighten the lives of other people.

Cutler will be attending Sault College as a Personal Support Worker (PSW) student in January, with the ultimate goal of becoming a  nurse.

“Helping other people is saving my life, literally,” Cutler said.