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2021 Mental Health Awareness champion Shane Priddle

October 6, 2021

Shane Priddle, technician at Voisey’s Bay, shares his mental health wellness journey in an effort to help others. “It’s been a long journey,” Shane wrote in an email to Vale News. “I’ll do what I can to help someone else feel less alone.” Photo: Shane Priddle

Welcome to our annual Mental Health Awareness series where we proudly introduce you to Vale employees who courageously share their own personal struggles. In speaking their truths, these champions of mental health wellness give the rest of us the invaluable gifts of comfort (we are not alone), education (get the help we need) and strength (quash the stigma). In this story you will meet Shane Priddle, a technician at our operations in Voisey’s Bay. Please read on…  

In October 2020, Shane sat in his apartment in Gander, NL, home from his rotation as a sample preparation technician at our operations in Voisey’s Bay. “My life was just looking empty. I didn’t care what happened to me,” he said. Years of coping with past traumas, anxiety and depression — and self-medicating with alcohol and drugs — had taken its toll on him. What happened next, said Shane, is hard to explain. “Something clicked and I thought: ‘Shane, it’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop!’

I was hesitant at first [to tell the supervisor], afraid to lose my job, but I said, ‘the heck with it.’ It turned out to be the right decision.

And on that day, “I decided to turn my life around and I quit all substances. I came free from what had control of me,” said Shane, 33, who had previously undergone rehab, without success.

Severe anxiety and depression 

Shane grew up in the small Inuit town of Postville, NL. He suffered his first panic attack at age eight, although at the time his family believed it was asthma. “I was hyperventilating so I was put on inhalers. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Now I know it was anxiety.”

When Shane was 24, he was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and prescribed medication. Though that was helpful, he still kept his emotions bottled and alleviated the pain with drugs and alcohol.

His work in Voisey’s Bay kept him occupied, but the first thing he would do when his flight returned home after a rotation at site, would be to find a drink or drugs. He fell behind on car payments and his relationships became strained.

Of course, Shane’s recovery took more than just that revelatory moment in his apartment. He has found strength in spirituality and church and has opened up to his family and girlfriend, who he calls a great support. He accessed therapy through the Vale Employee & Family Assistance Program (EFAP), as well as seeing a counsellor face to face. He also recently joined The Mental Health Working Group at our Newfoundland and Labrador Operations (NL-MHWG) where he is surrounded by colleagues who are also mental health wellness champions, and who have their own stories of struggle. 

The power of transparency 

Shane was nervous about telling his supervisor, Patrick Merner, about his mental health and addiction challenges, but felt it was important for his ongoing health to be transparent. “I was hesitant at first, afraid to lose my job, but then I said, ‘the heck with it.’ It turned out to be the right decision. Patrick was very accepting, really supportive.”

And it wasn’t just Patrick. Shane’s colleagues, who he considers his work family, also showed kindness and understanding. “I have friends who work for other companies that would never be that accepting.”

Shane said that the company’s awareness and support around mental health wellness is also evident in the onsite Green Room, which is open to all employees during shifts without judgment. “It’s there if you need to wind down, get solitude, breathe and meditate.”  

While Shane’s mood regulation is still a challenge and he’s working with his doctor to find the right balance of medication, “compared to how I was a year ago,” he said, “I’m 90 percent better. I’m getting there.”

Shane’s willingness to be open about his experience comes from a belief that transparency will break down stigmas and save lives — he has lost friends to suicide who never told anyone they were struggling. His advice to those who might see themselves in his story? 

“Reach out to friends, family or a counsellor. Once you talk about it, you slowly feel more comfortable and the weight comes off your shoulders.”

If you’d like to share your mental health wellness story, please reach out to Vale News editor Sherryll Sobie Cooke

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