Blake Loates

Top 40 Under 40 2017

Photography Aaron Pedersen

Age: 36

Job Title: Photographer; mental health advocate

Why She’s Top 40: As someone who suffers from depression, she strives to ensure that people with mental illnesses get a chance to be heard without being judged

The summer of 1994 was most likely the worst season Blake Loates had ever experienced. While others were out enjoying the sunshine, Loates, who was only 14, refused to leave her room while enduring endless crying spells and a non-stop onslaught of unusual thoughts.

She wasn’t fazed when her family physician diagnosed her with depression that fall, but what really threw her for a loop was when her mother, who also suffered from depression, took her aside.

“I recall the day as clear as anything,” recalls Loates. “My mom leaned over me and told me, ‘Now Blake, you can’t tell anybody about this because people just don’t understand these sorts of things.'”

Bewildered over that advice, she instead made it her mission to tackle the social stigma that plagued her fellow sufferers. And while she still struggles with her illness, tenure as a psychiatric nurse helped garner more insight into mental-health issues to the point where she knew she had to raise more awareness of what she and others were going through.

The result was We All Believe In You, a project that saw Loates create a photo gallery of mental-health participants she interviewed. Connecting with the Canadian Mental Health Association through a mutual friend garnered the support she needed to stage an exhibition of the project at the Art Gallery of Alberta in 2016. Astounded over the support she received, Loates, who’s on a waiting list for full-time treatment, knows the battle is far from over.

“I think everyone with a mental illness deserves recognition,” she says. “But I’ve been given the privilege and honour to be an advocate and ally for mental health and the people who are challenged by the crippling and often fatal conditions of their illness. I just seek to give people a safe place for understanding and non-judgement as I face my own illness and dare to take a stand.”

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