By: Alanna Sabatino
Here at EmpowHERto, we strive to teach young womxn how to reach their potential as leaders through educating them to hone their independence, mental strength, and confidence. One Canadian woman seeking to do the same for womxn across the globe is Karen Gosbee. Karen is a community leader and strong advocate fighting for change and action in mental health and addiction resources, both nationally and internationally. EmpowHERto had the pleasure of speaking with Karen to learn what this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BreaktheBias, means to her and her daily work.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreaktheBias—this means fighting to live in a world that’s free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. What does #BreaktheBias mean to you, and how does your work contribute to this notion of “breaking the bias”?
I came forward with my story to reinforce how hard it was to find the right help when struggling with mental health and addiction, and how it was even harder to see and understand the right resources for myself and my family members, the natural caregivers for those that suffer from mental health and addiction.
Early on, I was told not to tell my story as a domestic abuse survivor because my sincere intentions would be discredited. I understand why, but I regret not coming out as a victim for other domestic violence survivors. Prevention occurs through education and advocacy by sharing honest stories to break down the system of oppression and abuse to ultimately #BreaktheBias but, more importantly, reduce the shame and stigma.
Your work centers around advocating for accessible resources for mental health and substance abuse. As a woman in the public eye, what biases or challenges did you face when you began advocating for better resources and awareness?
Women are viewed as neurotic, dramatic and unreliable. When it comes to advocating and experiencing these issues, it is often dismissed with an eye-roll. The voice of lived experience is the most important voice; it needs to be legitimized and listened to when identifying the gaps to improve and change the system.
The social sector is led by females, but they must play into male-dominant boards and politics to get funding.
There are even more biases being a female in medicine, and the psychiatric field tends to have more women in it. Psychiatry is already stigmatized against, so that’s a double dismiss and eye-roll.
Many women with a psychiatric diagnosis, severe depression, or suicide ideation are struggling because they come from domestic violence or coercively controlling situations, and the cause of the diagnosis is completely overlooked.
What are some simple ways people can help #BreaktheBias when it comes to mental health and substance abuse?
Listen, listen, and listen some more. Be open about the fact that it is the most common illness. Ask for any volunteers who have not been impacted by mental illness—there are none. Stop using other terms to describe mental illness – burnt out, stressed, overwhelmed, etc. They minimize and make it hard to acknowledge when you need help. Again, I will stress that women are viewed as neurotic, dramatic and unreliable in general, and when it comes to advocating and experiencing these issues, it is often dismissed with an eye-roll. Listen, learn, educate, and advocate.
Who are some women who are #BreakingtheBias that inspire you and that you think other women could benefit from learning about?
There are so many but, to name a few:
Here in Calgary, Dr. Valerie Taylor is working to change the future of women’s care and health support.
A Canadian leader, Catherine Zahn has been open about her children struggling with mental health to reduce the stigma for others.
And, on an international scale, Olympic athlete Simone Biles is an example of childhood trauma causing you to not listen to your inner voice because of exploitation and expectations.
What other biases do you believe need to be addressed in our society?
We need to create a level playing field where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
If you could give one message or piece of advice to young womxn across the country, what would you like them to know?
Listen to your inner voice – if it gives you warnings, don’t ignore them. Trust your instincts and treat yourself like you treat others. Be kind. Also, lean on elders that have walked a similar path. They hold a lot of wisdom, support and community that will carry you through difficult times. Women are strong and powerful, especially when it comes to lifting each other up!