Manitoba politician reveals ‘sense of hopelessness’ in candid story of recent mental health struggles

A Manitoba politician spoke through tears as he shared details of his recent struggles with his mental health before other members of the province’s legislature on Thursday.

“For the last couple of months, I have felt like I was dead inside. I would go through the motions of my day and put a smile on,” MLA Bob Lagassé said in a virtual appearance, his voice quavering.

He told the legislature he would often get into his truck at the beginning and end of the day and break down crying, unable to shake off the frequent “dark thoughts of self harm” he had for no clear reason.

“This sense of hopelessness followed me around very much like Eeyore and his cloud,” Lagassé said.

Lagassé is the Progressive Conservative representative for Manitoba’s Dawson Trail electoral division just east of Winnipeg. 

Looking back, he said he realized his struggles were caused by several factors piling up, and that his untreated depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) played a major role.

“As men, we have been told since we are young, ‘You need to walk it off, stop being a sissy, and men don’t cry. 

“All of these statements are lies, and I’m here to tell you seeking help doesn’t make you weak. You do not have to walk it off,” he said, a single tear rolling down his cheek.

“And it’s OK to cry.”

Lagassé said he wants to spread awareness about mental health struggles and keep tackling his own “head-on” with help from his doctor, friends and family. That family includes Andrea, his wife of 25 years, and their five kids, his website says.

He said he decided to seek professional help after a recent statement in the legislature about mental health.

Message of hope, reminder to be kind

Lagassé ended his speech with two messages. One was for others struggling with their own mental health.

“If you find yourself today feeling less than you are, I’m here to tell you you are important and you are loved,” he said.

“You are here for a purpose. The tattooed semicolon on my thumb reminds me my story is not over yet, and neither is yours.

“I want to encourage you to talk to your doctor, a friend, a family member or someone you trust.”

His other message was for his fellow members of the legislature.

“Be kind to one another. Be uplifting, be truthful. In this environment of political theatre, we tend to be harmful to the detriment of our own and others’ mental health,” he said.

“And remember, it’s OK not to be OK. But what’s not OK is to go through it alone.”

Standing ovation, messages of support

Lagassé’s statement was met with a standing ovation that lasted more than 20 seconds.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew thanked the MLA for sharing his experience.

“We want you to be well. We value you. We know that you’re hurtin’, but we got your back,” Kinew said as members of his party nodded behind him.

“Reach out any time. And if reaching out to the leader of the Opposition isn’t the easiest thing for a PC member to do, I’m sure everyone else in the chamber feels the same way and would take your call.”

Premier Heather Stefanson also commended Lagassé for speaking out about his mental health struggles.

“It’s not easy to stand before us and make that kind of a statement,” she said.

“I am so incredibly proud of you, just like [I said in] the note that I sent you earlier, and many of the notes that you’re getting from members in the chamber. Thank you for everything that you do — and we’re here for you, my friend.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.