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  • Esty Rosenfeld

Involved for good

An interview with Marina Barr, a Montreal activist

Image source: Marina Barr

What got you started in the mental health field?

From when I was young, I had unrealistic and unattainable fitness goals. I’d spin for 2 hours a day and then I’d do an hour circuit. I thought that if I did all this exercise and just ate a certain amount of calories a day, I’d be able to look a certain way.

Through the amazing people in my life, I learnt to love my body. I learnt to accept that we are all given different things and we should just embrace what we have. I’m so much more than a body. The second I realized that, I was actually able to be happy. It really impacted my mental health in a positive way.

The other element which made me become passionate about mental health was that I know a lot of people who suffered from addiction. Some turned out great but others lost their battle to addiction.

When did you first get involved in creating change?

The first time I actually got involved and did something was for Chabad Lifeline. Lifeline, in general, is amazing because it’s free and immediate. They have counselors and everything someone who's struggling can need.

There was no young adult program in the city and we wanted to change that. We wanted to make mental health a topic that people can speak about. I wanted to create a platform where people can just be themselves. I didn’t want it to be a place where you are sugar coated. I wanted it to be a judgment free place where you can open up and have people help support you.

What I really focus on is raising awareness and having an open platform to speak. It’s an important subject that’s, oftentimes, so taboo. We definitely came a long way, that’s for sure. On Instagram, it’s super talked about. At the same time, social media is a superficial world. It’s not as much addressed on an individual and community level.

What other organizations are you involved in?

I volunteer for The Family Store, Chai Lifeline, Friendship Circle and Chabad Lifeline.

Volunteering for these organizations has helped me realize that I have so much to be grateful for and I don’t take anything for granted. All these experiences are so humbling and really made me the person I am today.

I work full time and I am in school full time as well but if I can help someone, I’ll cancel all my plans and be the first one there. I don’t even second guess it at this point.

Volunteering for Chabad Lifeline! Helping those dealing with addiction and mental health.

Photo source: Marina Barr

It's easy to remember why I volunteer with Chai Lifeline Canada, because the work they do so clearly touches so many different people. Spending time with children who are sick continues to teach me gratitude and compassion for every single person, and that guiding idea is obvious when you see what Chai Lifeline Canada does. They give to families and are there for every step of the journey, for every member of the family. When I talk with the parents and siblings, every member of the family talks about what CLL has done for their family. And it's that compassion and warmth that made me fall in love with the organization.

Photo source: Marina Barr

The Family Store- the very first place I ever volunteered at and one of the most instrumental places in shaping my views on what it means to help others.

Photo source: Marina Barr

What do you hope for in the future?

Addiction and mental health are very close to my heart so I’m always going to be helping in that area. I think long term, I really want to help any kid affected by addiction or mental health. I think that it’s really important for me for kids to feel like kids. It’s really hard to have access to help if you can’t afford it and you don’t have the proper support system. It makes it a super lonely experience. I want to make sure that kids can grow up to be the best they can be.

What do you say can be done to help better support people going through rough times?

Don’t give your advice. They probably tried everything you're going to throw at them. Unless under crazy circumstances, obviously step in. Otherwise, just be there. Show up as a friend, be someone who cares and be a support system. Do things to help them get their minds off of what they are going through. Check in with your friends and make sure they’re okay. That’s what counts at the end of the day. That’s what fosters real friendships.

What can people do to help create change?

Realize that everyone has mental health struggles to some extent. Some people hide it better, some people cope with it better or have better tools to deal with it. The more we talk about it, the more people become okay with it. People will feel less alone.

Be yourself and be true to who you are. You can never go wrong with that and at the end of the day, that’s the most beautiful version of you.

We have to work on making the world a positive place instead of a competition.

If you can be a positive light in someone’s life, do it. Try to make someone smile everyday because you’ll never regret it.

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