News / Halifax

Faces of Mental Health: Shawntay Rose Dann is dancing her way to recovery

After first attempting to take her own life at just six, the 19-year-old from North Preston is now a youth LOVE leader.

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait at the Halifax Public Gardens.

Jeff Harper / Metro Order this photo

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait at the Halifax Public Gardens.

Walking onto a stage in Halifax earlier this month, Shawntay Rose Dann was admittedly scared.

Though she loves to dance, she’s not used to breakin’ it down in front of hundreds of people.

Then she got up on stage…

“And before the music started, it was like, ‘This is where I wanna be.’ And not so much the dancing aspect, but up on stage, entertaining people, fulfilling people, helping people,” she says. “Knowing and showing that they can get through situations even though they may be the hardest thing that they’ve ever been through… it’s actually kind of amazing.”

Dann was one of the performers before a speech by Margaret Trudeau at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s ‘Let’s Keep Talking’ event at the Spatz Theatre at the beginning of May.

“I didn’t mess up, I didn’t faint, I didn’t go running off the stage crying, my music didn’t cut out … It went well,” she says with a laugh.

Last year, the 19-year-old from North Preston received an award at the same event for her involvement as a leader with Leave Out Violence (LOVE), an organization that steers kids away from a life of violence, and towards improving their communities.

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait at the Halifax Public Gardens.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait at the Halifax Public Gardens.

But when she joined LOVE, Dann was in a different place: she had just gotten out of the hospital – at 12 years old – after one of several suicide attempts that began six years earlier.

“When I was about six years old, I remember just wanting to be off this earth, and I tried to take my own life,” she says.

About two years before that, Dann and her sister were in a serious car accident.

“She didn’t make it and I did, and I guess the thought of that … it hurt, and I felt it was my fault for a long time,” she says.

Eventually, she was admitted to the IWK for psychiatric help.

"I felt more trapped than anything, being there, and it wasn’t the help I needed."

Next came doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, who she says just prescribed medication that made her feel worse. She’s since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD. She believes that trio makes it hard to properly medicate her, so she doesn’t take drugs, instead relying on her support system for help when she’s having a tough day.

“I have this forever, and I’m going to be living with it forever, and it’s living with it, not living against it,” she says. “Because if you live against it, it’s gonna drag you down, and it’s gonna drain you, and it’s gonna…dehydrate you of all energy that you have."

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait on South Park Street in Halifax.

Jeff Harper/Metro

Shawntay Rose Dann poses for a portrait on South Park Street in Halifax.

At LOVE, she met other people going through the same things she was, finding camaraderie in their shared feelings of being labelled.

Dann is two years without a suicide attempt, and she credits that support system. She now provides guidance to younger members of the group, “and it’s actually kinda fun,” she says.

She’s also a leader on the dance floor, travelling the region teaching clinics to people of all ages at schools and community centres with the Maritime Centre of African Dance.

After getting back into dancing little more than a year ago, for Dann, it’s the reclamation of a joy that was taken away from her, having been bullied about her dancing and quitting years ago.

“You stop going to practice, but you never stop dancing,” she says.

“For me, it’s helping people. It’s always been about helping people … It makes me feel good. It makes me feel stronger than I am.”

At the event earlier this month, that reclamation came to fruition, and from the stage, Dann took in the view, looking around the room at hundreds of other “faces of mental health.”

“I know one thing that we have definitely in common: that we’re all still here and we’re fighting through it.”

How to get help:

If you’re in crisis, go to the nearest hospital, call 911, or call the province’s crisis line at 1-888-429-8167 (toll free), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you’re looking for programs and services, or information about mental health, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at 1-877-466-6606 (toll free).

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