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Ponoka mental health advocate’s story is spotlighted in national TV spots

Chevi Rabbit said mental health should not be stigmatized
Ponoka’s Chevi Rabbit is an advocate for mental health and addictions-related issues, as well as those impacting the Indigenous and LGBTQ communities. (Contributed photo by Soko Fotohaus)

Ponoka’s Chevi Rabbit has become a Prairie-region spokesperson on mental health in the time of COVID in public service spots being televised from coast-to-coast.

“It’s a harsh world out there…telling us we don’t deserve love and respect unless we’re something we’re not,” says Rabbit in a 30-second clip for the non-profit Soar Above Stigma that aired last weekend on CTV.

Rabbit is one of four Canadians spotlighted in these national public service announcements about overcoming trauma, stigma, mental health problems and addictions. She wraps up her clip by saying her Cree culture taught her something powerful: Compassion.

The scripted story sprang from a traumatic real-life experience that happened to Rabbit well before the pandemic.

Now a transgender woman, Rabbit was a “feminine gay male” when she was beaten by three homophobic guys near the University of Alberta campus in 2012.

She recalled the men had initially cat-called her. When they realized she was male, they began to insult and assault her.

Although many by-standers witnessed this attack, nobody intervened while the men were hurling insults, Rabbit recalled. It wasn’t until the physical assault began, with one of the men picking her up, to throw her to the sidewalk, that six people jumped in to stop it.

In the aftermath, Rabbit admitted she didn’t realize the long-term mental health effects of what had happened.

“What really bothered me was that no one initially did anything. Nobody spoke up…It seemed that every time I shone as my authentic self I seemed to be pushed and bullied…”

Her anxiety and depression grew and became so disabling that she soon stopped going out in public alone. “I would shake even going into a bank,” recalled Rabbit.

Her fear got so overwhelming that she dropped out of her Native Studies program at University of Alberta and could no longer work as a make-up artist at fashion shows, or department store cosmetic counters.

By 2013, Rabbit also began binge drinking for escapism. “I wouldn’t drink every day,” she recalled.

Realizing she had a problem, Rabbit leaned on her Ponoka family and her Cree culture to find better ways of dealing with anxiety. For the past few years she has participated in smudging ceremonies and embraced sobriety while getting mental health treatment, therapy and medication.

She’s also been posting about her experiences on social media to reach out to others with mental health and addictions problems who feel stigmatized for various reasons, including race or gender identity.

Rabbit now works as a journalist for Alberta Native News.

She has spoken about mental health and gender identity at about 500 Alberta schools, as well as on the national stage. Rabbit sits on a number of committees, including the National Women’s Advisory Committee on Housing, the Alberta Diversity Committee for the RCMP and the Alberta Hate Crimes Committee.

When she was first asked to share her story through mainstream media after the Edmonton assault, Rabbit hesitated. She said it took about two weeks of family consultations to decide to do it.

She eventually agreed to be interviewed — as well to participate in awareness-raising projects such as the current national televised public service spot for Soar Above Stigma — because “I wanted to start a conversation about mental health,” she explained.

“No one is perfect in this world. Everybody is going through something, whether they are First Nations or LGBTQ or something else…”

In fact, Rabbit said most of the troubled people who contact her through social media are part of mainstream culture and are having a hard time because of COVID or other factors.

“I want to open up about mental health because I don’t want anyone to feel alone.”

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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