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Andrew Prince opens up about depression, bipolar disorder

With many friends, family and even constituents following him on Facebook, there was no better way to post his deeply personal message to everyone in one swoop

As councillor of Barrie’s Ward 7, Andrew Prince makes important decisions all the time, but on March 7 at 7:07 p.m. he made one of his biggest decisions of his life: the decision to talk about his bipolar disorder and depression.

The 39-year-old politician has been knowingly living with his condition for many years while seemingly being fine in the public eye, but a simple act from a good friend really led him to realizing it was time to speak out.

“There were a number of things that made me finally speak out,” said Prince. “I was attending events and quietly being a supporter of mental-health awareness all the while dealing with what was going on with me, so I kind of felt like a part of me was lying to myself and others.

"I received a gift from my friend Natalie Harris, who is an absolute champion for mental health in our region and beyond that really gave me that kick," he added. "Natalie is a painter and there were these two paintings I really wanted, but missed out on at the silent auction at her Paramedic Nat’s Evening For Mental Health event. I contacted her after and asked if there was any way to get two prints off of her, unframed, nothing special, until I got a little extra cash for them and she said sure.

"Natalie went on holiday and time had passed and I was having a really bad day one day, went for a walk and tried to get myself out if it; I got home and there was a package on my doorstep of the paintings. It sounds cheesy, but it was like a sign to me and I realized if Natalie and Michael Landsberg who spoke at the mental-health event can be brave, then it’s time I did, too.”

Bravery came to Prince on March 7 as he could no longer hold his secret in anymore. With many friends, family and even constituents following him on Facebook, there was no better way to post his deeply personal message to everyone in one swoop.

While the time of the post says 7:07 p.m., Prince assures that the paragraph was completed hours before that.

“I must have stared at that ‘post’ button for literally a couple of hours,” Prince said. “Then, I finally got the courage to hit it and realized Facebook has this new thing where it sends you to a page that allows you to make sure you want to send it; it was one of those ‘oh come on’ moments for me. It’s funny now, but it made question if I should post it.”

While pride and shame may be some of the main reasons people don’t speak out, there was a real fear for Prince on coming out with his condition.

Elected to council in 2006-10 as the representative of Ward 9, Prince won a Ward 7 byelection in 2016 that would see him take the reins of one of the city’s largest boundaries.

In a job where the public and adversaries can be cruel, the added risk of being a municipal election year gave Prince even more anxiety in his announcement.

“Being in public office and taking that step of saying I’m bipolar and have depression, there’s a lot of people who may say that I’m not fit for public office or if I go off on a rant about an issue I feel passionately about they might say ‘oh well that’s the bipolar talking’,” Prince said.

“For all my elected years ,it was very difficult to hide it, but I did," he added. "There are those who might say that I should have waited until the election was over, but they don’t understand how hard it is to live with it and sometimes when the time is right, the time is just right.”

Much discussion was had by Prince and his family, his closest allies. Prince’s mother was over that night and was very supportive of her son going public as was his partner and love of five years, Shannon.

Prince credits those close to him for how he has been able to handle the sometimes tumultuous last decade of his condition and with keeping it together the night he spoke out.

“I posted it and threw my phone away from me,” said Prince. “All of a sudden the alerts from Facebook are dinging, the phone is ringing, texts are coming in. My hands were literally shaking as I thought the haters were coming out. The first text message I think I read was from my ex-wife, Shianne, who has really become one of my best friends and she told me how brave she thought I was and glad I finally spoke up about it.

"She told me to read what people have been saying to the post, and I really broke down at all the support. I felt I could finally breathe," he added. "A few of my fellow councillors reached out and supported me as well, which felt really good. I even put my personal phone number on the post so people could reach out if they needed to talk and I had about four phone calls from people looking to talk and share their stories.”

The haters that Prince feared would veer their heads have not come about yet, but should they at some point, the father of three and now full advocate for mental-health awareness knows he will be ready whether they are personal or political.

“I will let my work speak for itself,” said Prince. “I didn’t do this in my first term and I’ve now been on council for a total of almost seven years. I have been a part of a lot of good things for the city and I continue to do a lot of good things here.

"At the end of the day and this is going to sound harsh, but if people don’t support me because of it then I am really fine with that," he added. "I probably don’t want those types of supporters anyway, but with the stat being something like one in five people living with some kind of mental illness, I feel that most people will understand. It sounds like a catchphrase, but the whole talk about it or let’s talk has really opened so many people to hearing, listening and helping.

"Maybe that’s where my journey will take me and maybe that’s why I’m in public office; to fight for the rights of those suffering and living daily with mental health issues.”

For those looking to talk, the Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County crisis line is 705-728-5044 or 1-888-893-8333.